Wondrous Words Wednesday: Charles Dickens

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come from Bleak House by Charles Dickens, which I am reading for a read-a-long hosted at Unputdownables.net — and as could be expected, Dickens’ writing is full of interesting words!


The old gentleman is conducted by a Mercury in powder to my Lady’s presence.

Mercury: n.

I wasn’t able to find a definition for this usage of “Mercury”. I imagine, as Mercury was a messenger-god, the meaning is of messenger. If anyone has any other input, please share!


A whisper still goes about that she had not even family; howbeit, Sir Leicester had so much family that perhaps he had enough and could dispense with any more.

Howbeit: adv. archaic nevertheless


She supposes herself to be an inscrutable Being, quite out of the reach and ken of ordinary mortals.

Ken: n. (one’s ken) one’s range of knowledge or sight.


… while a milkman and a beadle, with the kindest intentions possible, were endeavouring to drag him back.

Beadle: n. Brit. 1 a ceremonial officer of a church, college, or similar institution 2 historical a minor parish officer dealing with petty offenders.


He wold immediately have been pushed into the area if I had not held his pinafore.

Pinafore: n. a collarless, sleeveless dress worn over a blouse or jumper.


Nobody had appeared belonging to the house except a person in pattens, who had been poking at the child from below with a broom.

Patten: n. historical a shoe or clog having a raised sole or set on an iron ring, worn to raise the feet above wet ground.


Her dress didn’t nearly meet up the back and the open space was railed across with a lattice-work of stay-lace.

Stay-lace: n. a corset lace
*This definition comes from Merriam-Webster.com


Some of the inscriptions I have enumerated were written in law-hand

Law-hand: n. a style of handwriting used in old legal documents, especially in England.
*This definition comes from Dictionary.com


All the other children got up behind the barouche and fell off.

Barouche: n. historical a four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with a collapsible hood over the rear half.


(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

12 comments on “Wondrous Words Wednesday: Charles Dickens

  1. Yes, I’d say the Mercury is a messenger/herald. In other words, a footman (with powdered wig). Just a funny way to describe an ordinary moment that implies that My Lady might think of herself as a goddess.

    I sewed a pinafore for my daughter a couple of weeks ago for her pioneer outfit (we dressed up for a day-long event at Sutter’s Fort). It’s like a all-over apron, to keep your clothes cleaner, since you only have one or two outfits, but you can have a fresh pinafore more often.

  2. I like to discover all your (old) words. I think I just knew pinafore because I searched it in the dictionnary a few weeks ago.

  3. @ Dangermom: I had not thought of that implication, My Lady thinking herself a goddess, but you’re right of course! Thanks!
    @ Mary Ann: you seem to know all the words that sound strangest to me!
    @ Kathy: thank you!
    @ Tea Norman: I think that was Beedle. Probably pronounced the same way, though? I’m not sure there’s a connection as I’m not a fan and never read this one.
    @ Annie: I don’t think such a word as pinafore will stick with me for long, so kudos to you!

  4. Yes, there is a book of ‘wizard fairy tales’ authored by Beedle the Bard. It would be pronounced the same, but not otherwise related. But if I recall, the officer that runs Oliver Twist’s workhouse is a beadle–he’s the one who sells Oliver to the undertaker.

    We call the liquid metal mercury because it is ‘quick’–not only does it move around quickly and easily, it almost seems alive. It is the metal that belongs symbolically to the god Mercury, who has the same agile qualities.

  5. Dickens was such a wordsmith there is always great fun to be had when reading any of his writing. I would love to be doing the read along but the rules were too strict for me, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. It’s a shame though. I’ve long said that Bleak House is the best book that I’ve half-read twice. I’ve got my copy sitting on the shelves waiting for whenever I have the time to give it.

  6. Too bad that you cannot join us! It’s my first readalong, so I don’t really know whether these rules are stricter than standard… but I guess you could still join the discussion without being on the official list? Not sure, but as I understand it the rules were not made to leave people out, rather to ensure a better environment for discussion.

Ditelo con parole vostre/Let your words be heard

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