Janespeak: A Dictionary for Regency Enthusiasts
Undoubtedly, any history enthusiast finds oneself wishing that our daily
conversations were peppered with more elegant phrases than the everyday speech to which we
have become accustomed.
There is something quite romantic about the dialogue of the Regency eras in particular. Few women can still their fluttering hearts when
Edward Ferrars professes to Elinor Dashwood, "I have come here with no expectations, only to
profess now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours."
Few cannot feel the force of Edmund Bertram's passion when he tells Fanny Price, "I've loved
you as a man loves a woman. As a hero loves a heroine. As I have never loved anyone."
Indeed, some have lamented that our society today has sadly engaged in a reduction and simplification of
language, much like the deliberate process undertaken by the government to control the masses
in George Orwell's 1984. Political and philosophical debates aside, the Regency
folk tended to use more descriptive phrases rarely heard in everyday conversation today.
In addition, the 19th century speakers were fond of using expressions and analogies
in their dialogue. For example, Mr. Bingley remarked to Mr. Darcy
in "Pride and Prejudice" on his discriminating taste
in the female sex: "I wouldn't be as fastidious as you are for a kingdom!" In addition,
the language tended to be more expressive in degree. In expressing concern for
a friend in poor health, Mr. Elton exclaimed: "The whole situation is most alarming!
There is nothing worse than a sore throat. Its effects are exceedingly bleak." Of
course, some of the phrases wouldn't work today at home, school or in the office.
But go ahead and add a little whimsy to your conversations when appropriate, borrowed from some of our favorite
Jane Austen film adaptations, "Pride and Prejudice" (1995),
"Emma" (1996), "Sense and Sensibility" (1995) and "Mansfield Park" (1999).
Agreeable - Pleasing to the mind or senses; Ready or willing to agree or consent; Being in harmony. E.g., "Your entire person is entirely agreeable." - Edmund Bertram
Ardent - Characterized by warmth of feeling typically expressed in eager zealous support or activity; fiery, hot; shining, glowing. E.g., "In vain have I struggled, it will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." - Mr. Darcy
Astonishment - The state of being amazed or in wonder. E.g., "Miss Elizabeth Bennet! I am all astonishment!" - Caroline Bingley
Bleak - Lacking in warmth, life, or kindliness; Grim; Not hopeful or encouraging; Depressing. E.g. "How could I not be concerned? The whole situation is most alarming! There is nothing worse than a sore throat. Its effects are exceedingly bleak. " - Mr. Elton
Contemptible - Worthy of scorn. E.g., "A woman's poverty is even more contemptible than a man's." - Fanny Price
Disagreeble - Causing discomfort; Unpleasant, offensive; Marked by ill temper. E.g., "Did you ever meet such a proud, disagreeable man?" - Mrs. Bennet
Discordancy - The state of being at variance or in disagreement. E.g. "How fascinating that any discordancy between us must always arise from my being wrong." - Emma Woodhouse
Displease - To incur the disapproval or dislike of especially by annoying; to be offensive to intransitive senses; to give displeasure. E.g., "Darcy, I shall never understand why you go through the world determined to be displeased with everything and everyone in it." - Mr. Bingley
Divert - To give pleasure to especially by distracting the attention from what burdens or distresses; To amuse. E.g., "Indeed, I am excessively diverted." - Elizabeth Bennet
Fastidious - Having high and often capricious standards; Difficult to please; Showing or demanding excessive delicacy or care; Reflecting a meticulous, sensitive, or demanding attitude. E.g., "I wouldn't be as fastidious as you are for a kingdom!" - Mr. Bingley
Handsome - Marked by graciousness or generosity; Having a pleasing and usually impressive or dignified appearance. This term was frequently used to describe women, as well as men. E.g., "It has been many months now since I have considered her one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance." - Mr. Darcy
Importune - To press or urge with troublesome persistence; To request or beg for urgently. E.g., "I shall make no promise of the kind and I must beg you not to importune me any further on this subject." - Elizabeth Bennet
Ill-Favored - Objectionable; Unacceptable; Undesirable; Unwanted; Unwelcome. "Indeed not! Quite ill-favored!" - Mrs. Bennet
Incomprehensible - Impossible to understand. E.g., "The most incomprehensible thing in the world to a man is a woman who rejects his offer of marriage." - Emma Woodhouse
Indeed - Without any question; Truly, undeniably. This word is often used interjectionally to express irony or disbelief or surprise. E.g., "Shelves in the closet? Happy thought indeed." - Elizabeth Bennet
Insupportable - More than can be endured; Impossible to justify. E.g., "You are thinking how insupportable it would be to spend many evenings in such tedious company!" - Caroline Bingley
Invention - Product of the imagination; especially a false conception. E.g., "I often wonder that history should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention." - Fanny Price
Libertine - A freethinker especially in religious matters; A person who is unrestrained by convention or morality; One leading a dissolute life. E.g., "I have described Mr. Willoughby as the worst of libertines." - Colonel Brandon
Pitiable - Deserving or exciting pity; Lamentable; Of a kind to evoke mingled pity and contempt especially because of inadequacy. E.g., "That will make your ladyship's situation at present more pitiable but it will have no effect on me!" - Elizabeth Bennet
Sense - Judgment, wisdom; Ability to reach intelligent conclusions; Reliable ability to judge and decide with soundness, prudence, and intelligence. E.g., "Better be without sense than misapply it as you do." - Mr. Knightley
Situation - Position in life. Often used to refer to one's financial status. E.g., "Were she prosperous, or a woman equal to you in situation I would not quarrel about any liberties of manner. But she is poor! Even more so than when she was born. And should she live to be an old lady,
she will sink further still. Her situation being in every way below you should secure your compassion!" - Mr. Knightley
Tolerable - Capable of being borne or endured; Moderately good or agreeable; Passable. E.g., "She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me." - Mr. Darcy
Troublesome - Difficult, burdensome; Giving trouble or anxiety. E.g. "Especially when one of us is such a troublesome creature." - Emma Woodhouse
Vanity - Inflated pride in oneself or one's appearance; Conceit. E.g., "Vanity working on a weak mind produces every kind of mischief." - Mr. Knightley
Vex - To bring trouble, distress, or agitation to; To bring physical distress to; To irritate or annoy by petty provocations. E.g., "It's extremely vexing!" - Lady Catherine De Bourgh