The Jane Austen reader will quickly realize that Austen's works take place in a time unlike our own modern world willed with automobiles, airplanes and smartphones. They cover a period of history of which some portions are forever lost to history while others are preserved thanks to historical items which have survived the test of time. As such, her stories make use of some lesser-recognized terms that, for the modern reader, can provide some difficulty.
The Regency Period Glossary below is intended to serve as a basic primer of sorts for understanding some of the terminology then in use. Jane Austen's writing style, particularly its dialogue sections, provide the reader with an insight into the daily English speech of the period and, in itself, serves as a historical artifact to be preserved. With that, the reader can then fully understand, and appreciate, quite foreign words such as "barrister", "cribbage" and "barouche".
amiable - Friendly and good-natured.
annuity - A yearly salary that would continue for the rest of the receiver's lifetime. It is akin to a pension or retirement fund.
assembly room - A place where people gathered for dances, card games, conversation and to be "seen".
barrister- A lawyer. The barrister is the opposite of a solicitor. Where a solicitor works more directly with their clients, a barrister simply acts more as an advocate to the client providing specific advice and is often times used by a solicitor. A barrister is knowledgeable in specific portions of the code of law. The United Kingdom (among other nations) employs this split-type of legal representation.
barouche - Horse-drawn carriage usually of four wheels and drawn by two horses of fine breeding. The occupants were covered to some extent by a collapsible soft top while the carriage system was suspended by a type of suspension known as "C springs". Barouches were popularized during the Regency Period in that they were reserved for those nice summertime rides in the country.
bonnet - A ladies hat that is usually brimless and ties with a ribbon under the chin.
chaise - A two-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage that could carry up to four passengers and was driven by a servant. The top was convertible and could drop down for fine weather.
clergy - A body of people ordained for religious service. In Jane's England, the Church of England was the state church, thus clergymen were of the Anglican denomination.
coach - A large, four-wheeled carriage that could carry up to 6 passengers in addition to a driver that sat high in front of them.
commerce - A popular card game in the 18th and 19th centuries in which players swap cards turned face up in an effort to improve their hands. Also called whiskey poker.
commodious - Something that has been adapted to serve a purpose, perhaps a home or other dwelling.
cottage - A small house in the country.
countenance - An expression of the face usually associated with composure or a look of calm.
cravat - A fanciful necktie (or neck handkerchief) worn by men of the period; these could be tied in various adorning knots and were generally made of silk; appearing after 1660, the cravat was noticed by King Louis XIV when Croatian soldiers of a top regiment visited Paris, France (to celebrate their victory over the Ottoman Empire); the word "cravat" itself came from the French wording "a la croate" meaning simply "in the style of the Croats".
cribbage - A card game in which players use a cribbage board and pegs to keep score.
curtsey - A form of greeting for females; the equivalent to the male bow; usually done with an outward bend of the knees with one foot placed behind the other while holding the dress away from the body; curtsey would also be used before beginning a dance - aimed at her partner - or at the completion of one; some countries continue the practice of curtsey, often reserved for when meeting royalty.
detestable - Something worthy or deserving of being detested or abhorred.
epistolary novel- A fictional piece of writing that is told by a collection of letters, each conveying characters, speech and plot.
endowment - Typically references funds structured in such a way as to consistently provide an income to a given individual, family or organization.
engagement - A promise or agreement of marriage. Upon a proposal's acceptance, the suitor would seek the acceptance of the father (or guardian) of the lady. Gift-giving was a sign of an engagement.
engagement. Breaking an engagement was serious deal, but a woman could do it at any time. Older men did not break an engagement, though younger men could if it was determined that he was seduced by a 'gold digger'.
entail - To limit the inheritance of property to a specific succession of heirs, usually male. If a home was under entailment to the next male heir, a father with only daughters would not be able to provide a home for those daughters after his death. This practice kept the property in the family line and name.
gentry - A term reserved for a social class of person in Jane's time. These individuals made their incomes from renting the lands they owned. It should be noted that it is a term utilized throughout history in different ways, but this definition covers its use through the Regency Period.
gig - A two-person horse-drawn carriage that was light-weight, inexpensive and driven by one of the two passengers.
governess - A woman hired to educate the children of a household. She was usually a gentlewoman that had to resort to working due to lack of financial support (from a husband or family). Though educated herself, she was considered lower in rank to the family she worked for, but higher in rank compared to the rest of the house servants.
handsome - Generally meaning agreeable to the eye or to a distinctive taste. The term in Jane Austen's time could be used to describe both a man or a woman as attractive or dignified.
introductions - A new person to a party or gathering was always introduced by someone who knew him/her. New acquaintances would curtsey or bow, while handshaking was reserved for true friends. Self-introductions were allowed by people of higher rank. People of lower rank had to wait for an introduction and remain silent in mixed-rank company until such an introduction was made. Once introduced to someone, it was expected to forevermore acknowledge that person with a bow, curtsey or nod.
Janeite - A fan of Jane Austen's work (including both literature or film adaptations).
Juvenilia - The Juvenilia was a collection of stories, plays and poems written by Jane Austen for the amusement of family get-togethers. These works filled up three notebooks and it is believed were worked on from 1787 through 1793 and then again from 1809 through 1811 with some additions made to them by her niece and nephew Anna and James Edward Austen. The works contained in the Juvenilia a look into Jane Austen's satirical side.
knee breeches - A pair of men's knee length trousers usually worn with stockings (similar to to modern ladies' leggings).
landau - A four-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage, much like a coach, but differed in its ability to open the center of the roof on fine days (akin to a modern-day moon roof).
militia - An army composed of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers. In Jane Austen's time militias were called on to protect the homeland from overseas invasion if needed. Commissions in the militia could be purchased.
minuet - 1. A stately dance that began in 17th century France that consisted of small steps in time with slow music. This dance was usually the first dance at an assembly or ball. 2. The music for a minuet dance.
nobility - A class of people of high rank or birth.
parasol - A parasol is a small umbrella used by women in Jane's time (though some cultures continue to use it today). As fair or pale skin was considered a thing of beauty, it fell upon women to protect their skin from the effects of the sun.
parsonage - A parsonage is the building that houses the leader of the local Christian church. This naming convention may differ by denomination. May also be known as a vicarage, manse or rectory.
pelisse - A long-sleeved ladies' jacket with a 3/4 length worn in the 18th and 19th centuries.
piano forte - A musical instrument that is a harpsichord-like and is played by pressing keys. The word pianoforte itself is derived from the Italian naming convention "piano e forte". The instrument was a popular form of entertainment in Jane's time. The word has since evolved to become the shortened form of "piano" in our time.
pounds - The basic unit of currency used in the United Kingdom. Also called the pound sterling as its was forged from silver metal. The pound is broken into smaller units of currency called pence.
primogeniture - The legal right of the eldest child (son) to inherit the entire estate of his parents. Subsequent sons had to make a living by choosing an occupation fitting for a gentleman (clergy, solicitor/lawyer, etc.).
Promenade - A promenade is either a public or private area reserved for walking. The phrase can also be used to refer to walking, either as exercise or for pleasure.
quadrille - 1. A square dance for four couples that involved five parts. 2. The music played for the dance.
Ramsgate - Ramsgate was/is a seaside town in the neighborhood of Thanet in England. It is on the southern coast of the island. In Jane's time it was a place of high standards, quite the opposite from what it has become today.
reticule - A small handbag for ladies made of fine fabric (silk, satin) that cinches closed at the opening with a fine cord.
spencer - A long-sleeved ladies jacket that stops just beneath the bosom, keeping an empire waistline.
solicitor - A solicitor is a lawyer operating directly with his/her client as opposed to a barrister that operates indirectly or is called upon by a solicitor to advocate in a case. The United Kingdom (among other nations) employs this split-type of legal representation.
twelvemonth - In JanesSpeak, the term covers a typical 12-calendar month.
Upper Rooms - A place for assemblies in Bath, England near Circus and Bennett Streets. It consisted of four social rooms: the Card Room, the Octagon Room, the Tea Room and the Ballroom.
vexing - To be bothered with or annoyed by; suffering from or in distress.
West Indies - The West Indies is a generic term used to cover the islands located in the Southern portion of the Atlantic Ocean near South America. The West Indies, for a time, were a major source of income for the powers in Europe that included Spain, England, France and the Dutch.
Westminster - A western suburb of London. Westminster Abbey is located there along with the Houses of Parliament.
wetnurse - A woman who breastfeeds another woman's infant. Usually she was employed by a wealthy family and was responsible for feeding the infant, allowing the birth mother to sleep through the night. The wet nurse would have also recently had her own child as milk ducts dry up if not consistently used. Once the child was weaned, the wet nurse would no longer be needed.
whist - A popular card game in the 18th and 19th centuries. Requires 4 players, paired into teams with partners facing each other. Rule are extremely simple and the game is won by the first team to earn 5 points.