Wondrous Words Wednesday: Charles Dickens (4)

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!

This week I bring you mu fourth and last (finally 🙂 ) harvest of words from Bleak House by Charles Dickens.


They tended their locks severely in buckram and powder

buckram: n. coarse linen or other cloth stiffened with paste, used as interfacing and in bookbinding.

I find this curious, because this is a character describing the portraits of a noble house, and even if he is describing them as shepherdesses, the “coarse linen” sound out of place. The whole description is a bit strange, though, and goes on like this:

and put their sticking-plaster patches on to terrify commoners as the chefs of some other tribes put on their war-paint.

So I guess the strange tone is part of it.


… says Richard, sitting down again with an impatient laugh and beating the devil’s tattoo with his boot on the patternless carpet

tattoo: n. 1 an evening drum or bugle signal recalling soldiers to their quarters 2 Brit. a military display consisting of music, marching, and exercises 3 a rhythmic tapping or drumming.

Actually, did you know that this is the first meaning for tattoo?


… to have to do with you is to have to do with a man of business who is not to be hoodwinked.

to hoodwink: v. deceive or trick


The Indiaman was our great attraction because she had come into the downs in the night.

Indiaman: n. historical a ship engaged in trade with India or the East or West Indies, especially an East Indiaman.


Apart from debts and duns and all such drawbacks, I am not fit even for this employment.

to dun: v. to importune (a debtor) for payment
dun: n. 1 one that duns 2 an importunate demand for payment.
*This definition comes from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language via TheFreeDictionary.com

So I guess he means “all the debts and all the creditors asking for payment”.


… two young ladies are occasionally found gambolling in sequestered saw-pits and such nooks of the park.

gambol: v. run or jump about playfully.


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


8 comments on “Wondrous Words Wednesday: Charles Dickens (4)

  1. Dickens is always good for a new word or too. I knew tattoo because my son was in band for years and he had lots of friends in percussion. Most of the other words are new to me. I do love hoodwink!

  2. Ha ha. Snap! I had buckram today too! It’s funny to see words that I think would be quite commonplace to the English (or we Aussies) like hoodwink and gambol that aren’t well known elsewhere. Actually both are excellent, useful words that roll off the tongue- I hope you get to use them. Gambol is often used as gambol about. I’d like to gambol about tomorrow, but sadly have to go to work instead. No gamboling there….

  3. That is a strange description of those portraits, all right. But they wouldn’t have been wearing the ‘coarse linen’ on the outside–as you thought, a rich lady dressed up as a shepherdess would still be wearing fine fabrics. Buckram was used for structural work underneath–your stays would have buckram in them, and it would be used inside coats or stomachers for stiffening. It sounds like the people in the portrait used buckram as part of the inner structure to hold up a hairdo.

  4. The only ones I did not know were buckram and Indiaman! I like Jeanlp’s description of buckram above. Aren’t you glad that we get to wear comfortable clothes these days?

  5. I’m back because Louise also had buckram this week. I see that she has already been here. But, really, how weird is that?!?! It seems like a really obscure word for two of you to use in the same week!

  6. OT: Sorry about misspelling your name – I fixed it! I hate typos in general, but I always feel worse when it is someone’s name :/

  7. @ Kathy: words are the part I’m liking best in this book!
    @ Louise: imagine the chance! Also, I see what you mean — I need to read more Aussie/British books 😉
    @ Jean: oh, I see. Thanks! Also, because the description came from Mr Skimpole, I wondered if he was seeing things/misinterpreting what he saw…
    @ Tribute Books Mama: thanks for visiting!
    @ Libby: no worries, I know my nickname is tricky for non-Italians. Also, yes, buckram does sound horrible to wear, especially in one’s hair.

Ditelo con parole vostre/Let your words be heard

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