In her novels, Jane Austen (1775–1817) scrutinized the ways that social codes and class place constraints on individuals and relationships. Her own use of language, however, was anything but constrained. It was so playful and inventive—like tittupy, or “bouncing all around,” which a character uses to describe a rickety carriage in Northanger Abbey.
While she may not have exactly coined words like tittupy, Austen’s books and letters are often the first recorded instance of them, and the enduring popularity of her work no doubt gives them continued life. Whether you’re a Janeite or not, here are a few more of the words Jane Austen popularized that still sparkle today.
… that cousinly little interview must remain a perfect secret.—Persuasion (1817)There’s sisterly and brotherly. There’s motherly and fatherly. Why, there’s even daughterly and sonly. So, why not cousinly? There was for Austen. True to form, cousinly means “like or befitting a cousin.”
Now, a kissing cousin may not sound very cousinly, but it simply means “a distant relative one is familiar enough with to greet with a kiss,” as on the cheek. By extension, kissing cousin can refer to anything “closely related or very similar.”
Miss Crawford … proposed their going up into her room, where they might have a comfortable coze.—Mansfield Park (1814)With its resemblance to cozy, coze sounds comfortable, indeed. A coze is “a friendly talk.” It can also be a verb for having such a chat.
The origin is uncertain, but it might come from the French causer, “to chat,” ultimately from the same Latin root that gives us cause. We think there’s plenty of cause to use a word like coze, Austen’s legacy just one among them.
I have no very good opinion of Mrs. Charles’s nursery-maid: I hear strange stories of her; she is always upon the gad …—Persuasion (1817)We don’t have any opinions on Mrs. Charles’s nursery-maid, but we do think gad is a very good word. To gad (about) is “to move restlessly or aimlessly from one place to another.” So, to be upon the gad, as Austen writes, is like boppin’ around from place to place, maybe even sticking your nose in other people’s business.
We could also call the nursery-maid a gadabout, originally like a “busybody” or “gossip,” though this noun later went on to refer to “someone who travels widely for pleasure”—kind of like an old-fashioned word for a jetsetter.
My dear itty Dordy’s remembrance of me is very pleasing to me.—Letters (1798)Itty is an itty-bitty, teeny-weeny, cutesy-poo way of saying little, which Jane Austen based on the way her little nephew, George (Dordy), struggled with certain pronunciations, as young children do. Austen really was a novelist of manners.
I am quite angry with myself for not writing closer; why is my alphabet so much more sprawly than Yours?—Letters (1798)Another joyful bit of linguistic creativity from Jane Austen is sprawly. The genius of sprawly, we find, is that it seems to characterize something that stretches out but in its own contained sort of way.
A big city is sprawling, sure … but what about that little mess you make when you get home from work, slough off your bag, toss aside your keys, and kick off your shoes? Sprawly.