Mignonette - Mithridate water

Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.

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[minionett; minionet; mignonett; mignionet; migionet]

From the French 'Mignon' meaning 'delicately formed'. Mignonette was the name give to the garden plant and hardy annual, Reseda odorata. In the only example of this in the Dictionary Archive, a nurseryman offering it for sale described the ones he stocked as dwarf, sweet scented and upright [Tradecards (n.d.)], but there were other forms including the so-called 'Tree Mignonette', which was trained to have a bushy head.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1752

The name of mignonette was also given both to a kind of LACE, more fully mignonette lace, and to a fine kind of NET. A quotation dated 1865 given in the OED (F.B.Palliser, Lace 30, referring to the mid 1660s) suggests it was 'a light, fine, PILLOW LACE, in high favour for head-dresses and other trimmings'. In advertisements found in the Dictionary Archive it was most often associated with other similar laces as in 'minionett and Trolley lace' [Tradecards (1769)]. Another advertisement indicates its use for making RUFFLEs [Tradecards (1770s)].

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1699

A third meaning is not given in the OED. In her 'British Housewife', Martha Bradley claimed that mignonette was 'one of the Cordials called by the French Liqueurs, and it the most pleasant and wholesome of them all.' Her recipe called for a distillation of OIL OF LAVENDER and OIL OF ROSEMARY, ORANGE FLOWER, spices BALM, SAGE, BASIL in FRENCH BRANDY [Bradley (1756 facs.1996-8)]. The leaves or flowers of the plant were not included.

Found describing LACE

Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Bradley (1756 facs.1996-8).

Military button

New technology for BUTTON making, coining and minting developed by Mathew Boulton (and others) was easily adapted to stamping decorative buttons like those required for military UNIFORM. Given the pre-eminence of BIRMINGHAM in this technology, it is not surprising to find manufacturers from that town advertising their wares, like Hill Green & Co 'Manufacturers of _ Naval Military & Crest Buttons, Epaulets, Ornaments etc' [Tradecards (19c.)], and C.F. Carter, who claimed to be a 'Medal, Livery, Naval, Military, Fancy &c Die sinker' [Tradecards (18c.)].

Prior to 1767 buttons in the British Army bore no regimental designs or identifications. In 1751, the infantry and cavalry were numbered in order of precedence, the infantry from 1 to 70 and the cavalry, excluding the household cavalry and dragoon guards from 1st to 13th Dragoons. The infantry after 1751 became know as regiments of foot, that is 10th Regiment of Foot [Military buttons (online)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1785 as 'The buttons of military men being always of metal' under Mohair

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Military buttons (online).

Milk and water

[mylke & water]

A TEXTILE, the name of which was apparently taken from the colour - a bluish white as in diluted milk. Although found measured by the YARD in the Dictionary Archive, suggesting a WOOLLEN CLOTH of some type [Inventories (1590)], in the quotations in the OED, all dating from the sixteenth century, it was measured by the ELL.

OED earliest date of use: 1511

Found in units of YARD

Sources: Inventories (early).

Milk maid

[milke mayd]

The name of a TOY, possibly a model of a milkmaid with moving parts. Although it has been noted in the Dictionary Archive in two records, neither offer any further clues.

Not found in the OED in this sense

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Tradecards.

Mill puff

A type of low-grade WOOL used as FLOCKS to stuff FLOCK BEDs and the like. A variant of the term is found in 'fine puff flocks' supporting the idea that the main use of mill puff was in UPHOLSTERY and BEDDING [Newspapers (1750)]. In later times, it seems likely that low grade COTTON WOOL was used for the same purpose and given the same label.

OED earliest date of use: 1624 under Mill

See also FLOCKS.
Sources: Inventories (early), Newspapers.



Millinery consisted of goods sold by a milliner such as fancy goods and fashionable accessories, the term deriving from the fact that many of these items came originally from Milan. By the late seventeenth century, some READY MADE items of dress were sold alongside accessories such as FAN, GLOVES etc., and trimmings such as LACE. The term was not associated solely with headwear until the early twentieth century.

Millinery seems to have been a new term, and to some extent a new trade in the late seventeenth century. The earliest reference in the Dictionary Archive is in a probate inventory where one of the appraisers called himself a milliner [Inventories (1686)]. Millinery only gradually took hold in the eighteenth century, when milliners took on some of the trade that would have formerly been included under MERCERY and HABERDASHERY, though these terms continued in use. But whereas mercers in particular were invariably men, milliners were often women. This distinction, and its implications, are well illustrated in an advertisement: 'In the Millinery Busines: Wanted, an Apprentice, in one of the genteelest houses of the business at the west end of the town, where young ladies are taken great care of and treated with respect; it is not a public shop. Any young lady of good family will be approv'd. A genteel premium is expected' [Newspapers (1722)].

OED earliest date of use: 1679-88

Found described as Fresh, of the newest taste, READY MADE

Sources: Diaries, Newspapers, Tradecards.

Millinery dress

[millinery dresse]

A HEAD DRESS made by a milliner. Advertisements like 'new Millinery Dresses for the present Season' [Newspapers (1780)] indicate that the term had connotations of fashionability; indeed milinery dresses have only been noted in the Dictionary Archive in those contexts.

Not found in the OED

Found described as NEW

Sources: Newspapers.


A TEXTILE in the form of a stiff, coarse and thin MUSLIN

OED earliest date of use: 1832

Found describing LAWN

See also LAWN, MUSLIN.
Sources: Newspapers.

Million and snail

[milion & snaile]

A term, sometimes abbreviated to SNAIL, found only rarely in the Dictionary Archive when it was applied to BUTTONs. The meaning of the latter part of the phrase is clear - that is, curled into a shape similar to a snail's shell - but the meaning of the first part remains obscure. It may have been a corrupted form of MILAN point, a variety of GOLD and SILVER THREAD LACE [Caulfeild and Saward (1885, facs.1989)], in which case the buttons were made of the lace wound round into the characteristic form of a snail shell.

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Inventories (early).
References: Caulfield & Saward (1885, facs. 1989).


The only example noted in the Dictionary Archive is among the stock of a button maker. It appears unhelpfully listed between PITCH and VINEGAR [Inventories (1764)]. Its name suggests it was something of mineral origin.

Not found in the OED

Found in units of LB

Sources: Inventories (late).

Minging trough

[minging trow]

A dialect term found in eastern England for a KNEADING TROUGH. It presumably has the same origin as 'Meng', which is given various sub-meanings of to mix or mingle by the OED. Halliwell's Dictionary includes Ming as a word found in the eastern counties meaning to knead [Halliwell (1850, facs. 1989)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period).
References: Halliwell (1850, facs. 1989).



A term that had several distinct meanings, three of which appear in the Dictionary Archive. The OED places all of them under a single headword and suggests that the root meaning was a term of endearment for a woman. Fortunately, the context will almost always indicate which meaning was intended. Although dealt with separately in terms of definition and discussion, the variant spellings and any other information relating to the term have been recorded here collectively. There should be no difficulty in distinguishing the first meaning from the other two, but the second and third may be more problematic.

A superior kind of BAYS belonging to the group of HANDWARP bays made with ROCKSPUN WOOL, minikins were a speciality of Coggeshall in Essex. They were generally sold neither dyed nor cottoned, but they were so frequently frizzed at a later stage and turned into FRIZADOEs, that they were sometimes, and incorrectly, called 'Minikins or Frizadoes' [Kerridge (1985)]. Minikins as such are found in shops in the early seventeenth century dyed in various colours, but they have not been noted later.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1604

Secondly, the term is applied to a kind of small PIN, according to Edward Phillips 'the smallest sort of Pins, us'd by women for their clothes' [Phillips (1706)]. It has only rarely been noted in the Dictionary Archive, where the probable synonym LILLIKIN is more common.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1706

Thirdly, the term is applied to a thin string of CATGUT used for the treble string of a LUTE or VIOL. Although other sorts of LUTE STRING were still listed in the 1784 Book of Rates, minikins no longer were, suggesting that the term may have become obsolete.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1541

As a TEXTILE: Found described as BLACK, CRIMSON, PEACH colour, STAMMET Found describing BAYS
Found in units of YARD
As a LUTE STRING: Found rated by the GROSS containing 12 DOZEN - KNOT

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates.
References: Kerridge (1984), Phillips (1706).

Minorca oil

[minorca oyl]

Found only in the Books of Rates [Rates (1657)]; [Rates (1660)], and in the Scottish 'Customs and valuations of merchandises, A.D. 1612' [Halyburton (1867)], where it was categorizes under GROCERY rather than among the medicinal OILs under DRUGS. It was joined with CIVIL OIL, itself a corruption of SEVILLE OIL and a synonym for OLIVE OIL, and with two other oils also identified by their supposed place of origin. Such olive oils were probably listed in the Books of Rates in this way in order to pre-empt evasion of duty, which was far higher on olive oil than on any other. Probably once on sale in this country, Minorca oil would have been called either CIVIL OIL, increasingly a generic name for the type, or OLIVE OIL, hence the absence of the term in internal trade.

No definition in the OED

Sources: Rates.
References: Halyburton (1867).



A coarse LINEN CLOTH, often found in the records associated with HINDERLAND, supposedly first imported from Munster, a GERMAN city, capital of Westphalia, after which it was named. It was listed by name in the 1582 Book of Rates but had disappeared by 1660, though it was still to be found in retailing shops into the late seventeenth century.

OED earliest date of use: 1612

Found rated by the ROLL of 1500 ELL

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates.

Mint water

[minte water]

Although PEPPERMINT, that is Mentha piperita, has long been grown in gardens, it seems more probable that the examples of MINT water found in the Dictionary Archive were made from SPEARMINT and should be placed among the SIMPLE WATERS that were distilled in water. Nicholas Culpeper recommended a water of this type as 'available to all the purposes' to which spearmint could be put, 'but more weakly'. But he added 'if a spirit thereof be rightly and chymically drawn, it is more powerful than the herb itself' [Culpeper (1792)]. Surprisingly he did not refer to peppermit at all. Spearmint, and possibly any waters distilled from it, seem to have gone out of favour during the eighteenth century [Mason and Brown (1999)], though a recipe to make spearmint water was still in the Pharmacopoeia [Pemberton (1746)], and one quotation dated 1757 in the OED included both spearmint water and peppermint water. Martha Bradley included two recipes for peppermint water in her British Housewife, the 'strong' one made from the dried leaves and flower buds distilled in 'Melasses Spirit', the weaker one distilled in water [Bradley (1756 facs.1996-8)]. The official recipe in the eighteenth-century Pharmacopoeia was much the same except that it required PROOF SPIRIT [Pemberton (1746)]. It may be difficult, even from the context, to know which water is intended.

OED earliest date of use: 1666 as Mint water under Mint; 1757 as Peppermint water under Peppermint

Found described as STRONG
Found in units of QUART

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Newspapers.
References: Bradley (1756, facs 1996-8), Culpeper (1792), Mason and Brown (1999), Pemberton (1746).

Miss in her teens

This was a name given to one of the PERFUMED WATERS; presumably one intended for a young girl only just out of the school room. It is an indication of the degree to which fashion items were increasingly focused to accommodate a specific age groups [Tradecards (18c.)].

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Tradecards.

Mississippi ball

[missipy ball]

A small BALL for playing Mississippi. This was a game similar to bagatelle in which the ball is driven against cushions at the side of the board and thence through one of the fifteen numbered arches at the end, the number of the arch through which the ball goes counting to the player. Judging by the citations in the OED, the game could be played on a table similar to a BILLIARD TABLE or outdoors.

OED earliest date of use: 1728

Sources: Tradecards.


[mithridatum; mithridatium; metridate; metredate; methridate; medridate]

Mithridate was named after its alleged appearance in the cabinet of Mithridate, King of Pontius in the first century. It was a medical preparation made chiefly of HONEY, though containing numerous other ingredients. In the early modern period it was used as a universal antidote, in particular against poison and infectious disease. So important was this product that Quincy described it as one of the 'five great COMPOSITIONs of the shops' [Quincy (1718)].

We know something about the earlier ingredients used to make mithridate as a result of the research performed by the Royal College of Physicians in the mid-eighteenth century. Their objective was to isolate the active and useful ingredients in medical preparations, and improve understanding of others that performed no medical function. In mithridate they found the presence of AGARIC, which they deemed as 'not only useless but hurtful'; and singled out for further criticism the following popular ingredients: HYPOCISTUS, CASSIA bark, POLEY MOUNTAIN, CARROT seeds, GUM ARABIC, RED-ROSE, DITTANY of CRETE, GENTIAN ROOT, and ACACIA. Despite the dubious medicinal qualities of many ingredients used to make mithridate, in their report, the Royal College of Physicians kept an open mind, writing of this and similar compositions that 'we have submitted to the prevalence of custom, and have left them to the correction of posterity' [Pemberton (1746)].

OED earliest date of use: 1528

Simone Clarke

Found described as VENETIAN Found to contain OIL OF MACE
Found rated among the DRUGS by the OUNCE, POUND

Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates, Recipes.
References: Pemberton (1746), Quincy (1721).

Mithridate mustard

A name for various cruciferous plants that were once credited with great medicinal virtues, in particular THLAPSI arvense, which was also known as TREACLE MUSTARD. Mithridate mustard was an ingredient in both MITHRIDATE and VENICE TREACLE.

OED online earliest date of use: 1562 under Thlapsi

Sources: Recipes.

Mithridate water

[metredate water]

The term does not appear in the OED and only once in the Dictionary Archive in a recipe [Recipes (Crossman)]. It did not contain MITHRIDATE, but was probably given that name as it was intended as a universal antidote, in particular against poison and infectious disease, just as mithridate was.

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Recipes.