Miss Austen's English

Mr. A. C. Bradley first suggested to me that many of her admirers would be interested to have a list of the obsolete words and expressions to be found in Miss Austen’s novels; and I have been led on from small beginnings to attempt a scrutiny of her language. The notes which I subjoin are a selection from the results of this examination.

The number of words which are now actually obsolete, if we except the names of things themselves fallen into disuse, is very small; and the number of those which can be said to be used in senses now definitely obsolete is not very great. On the other hand, on almost every page expressions occur which would not now be used by like people in like circumstances, or, if used, would not carry precisely the same shade of meaning or the same tone of feeling. When Captain Wentworth says to Anne Elliot:

‘I confess that I do think there is a disparity, too great a disparity, and in a point no less essential than mind.—I regard Louisa Musgrove as a very amiable, sweet-tempered girl, and not deficient in understanding; but Benwick is something more. He is a clever man, a reading man—and I confess that I do consider his attaching himself to her, with some surprise.’

we feel how far the language of educated conversation has travelled in a century. But the elements of the difference are almost too subtle to admit of analysis.

The lists which follow attempt no more than to select some of the more important or interesting of those words and phrases which differ from modern usage in meaning, or in colour, or in their contextual relations. Some of the distinctions noted are so slight that they are likely to escape the notice of all but the most careful readers.

Miss Austen’s language deserves closer attention than it has received. She is not indeed one of the great writers of English prose of the early nineteenth century; but she is one of the greatest, because one of the most accurate, writers of dialogue of her own or any age; and of the writers of her period who furnish good and abundant specimens of polite conversation, she is to-day by far the most popular.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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