Robin Camille Davis
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Adventures in Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

October 15, 2009
Tags: words

POLI'TE. adj. [politus, Latin.]
1. Glossy; smooth.
Some of them are diaphanous, shining and polite; others not polite, but as if powder'd over with fine iron dust. —Woodward.
2. Elegant of manners.
A nymph of quality admires our knight, / He marries, bows at court, and grows polite. —Pope

PO'LTRON. n.s. [pollice truncato, from the thumb cut off; it being once a practice of cowards to cut off their thumbs, that they might not be compelled to serve in war. Saumaise. Menage derives it from the Italian poltro, a bed; as cowards feign themselves sick a bed: others derive it from poletro or poltro, a young unbroken horse.]
A coward; a nidgit; a scoundrel.
Patience is for poltrons. —Shakespeare

PONK. n.s. [Of this word I know not the original.]
A nocturnal spirit; a hag.
Ne let the ponk, nor other evil sprights, / Ne let the mischievous witches. —Spenser

(Excerpts from Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, published 1775.)