Pretty Little Tiny Kickshaws


It’s been awhile since I picked up Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary and, when I got it in my head to look at it this morning, my search led me into a massive reorganization of a few bookcases, leading me to once again ponder: Is there such a thing as too many books?

I didn’t ponder for too long, though, I now have one reorganized bookcase and several more stacks around the house awaiting me to continue this project tomorrow. But, Johnson’s Dictionary was found and provided a bit of a respite from the dust in my bookcases.

If you don’t know Johnson’s work, but only know of it, you need to get your hands on a copy. It is fascinating reading. Coleridge called it a “most instructive and entertaining book” and I couldn’t agree more. Lord Macaulay is also quoted in the introduction to the edition I own (1) as stating that it is “the first dictionary which could be read with pleasure. The definitions show so much acuteness of thought and command of language, and the passages quoted from poets, divines and philosophers are so skillfully selected, that a leisure hour may always be very agreeably spent in turning over the pages.” I won’t fess up how much time I spent with dear Johnson’s dictionary today, but let it suffice to say that I might have made more progress on my bookcases had I not thumbed through as many pages as I did.

One of the things that makes Johnson’s Dictionary so entertaining to read are the quotations used as examples of the definitions.   By far the most quoted author was Shakespeare, who Johnson said was useful for “the diction of common life”.  So, in keeping with the A to Z challenge — and because April is the month of Shakespeare’s birth & death — here are a few words beginning with the letter ‘K‘  which use the Bard’s word as examples.

Stacks and stacks and stacks....

ken n.s, [from the verb.]
View; reach of sight.

Lo! within a ken, our army lies. ~ Henry IV.

When from the mountain top
Pisanio shew’d thee,

Thou wast within a ken. ~ Cymbeline


kern n.s. [an Irish word.]
Irish foot soldier; an Irish boor.

No sooner justice had with valour arm’d,
Compell’d these skipping kerns to trust their heels,
But the Norweyan lord, surveying advantage,
Began a fresh assault. ~ MacBeth


Kickshaw n.s. [This word is supposed, I think with truth, to be only a corruption of quelque chose, something; yet Milton seems to have understood it otherwise; for he writes it kickshoe, and seems to think it used in contempt of dancing.]

1. something uncommon; fantastical; something ridiculous.

2. A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.

Some pigeons, a couple of short-legged hens,
a joint of mutton, and any pretty little tiny kickshaws.
~ Henry IV.


Kicksy-wicksey n.s [from kick and wince.]
A made word in ridicule and disdain of a wife. Hanmer.

He wears his honor in a box, unseens,
That hugs his kicksy-wicksey here at home,
Spending his manly marrow in her arms. ~ All’s Well That Ends Well


kidney n.s [etymology unknown.]

2. Race; kind; in ludicrous langauge.

Think of that, a man of my kidney; think of that, that am as subject to heat as butter;
a man of continual dissolution and thaw.
~ Merry Wives of Windsor


kind n.s [cynne, Saxon.]

4. Nature; natural determination.

The skillful shepherd peel’d me certain wands,
And in the doing of the deed of kind,
He stuck them up before the fulsome ewes. ~ The Merchant of Venice

5. Manner; way.
Send me your prisoners with the speediest means,
Or you shall hear in such a kind from me
As will displease you.
~ Henry IV


kitchenwench n.s. [kitchen and wench.]
Scullion; maid employed to clean the instruments of cookery.

Laura to his lady was but a kitchenwench. ~ Romeo and Juliet


knowledge n.s. [from know]
2. Learning; illumination of the mind.

Ignorance is the curse of God,
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heav’n ~ 2 Henry IV

3. Skill in any thing.

Do but say to me what I should do,
That in your knowledge may by me be done,
And I am prest unto it. ~ Merchant of Venice

4. Acquaintance with any fact or person.

That is not forgot,
Which ne’er I did remember; to my knowledge
I never in my life did look on him. ~ Richard II

Kern, Kicksy-Wicksey, and Kitchenwench may no longer be the “diction of common life”, but it is still fun to read about them.

1.  Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, Selections from the 1755 work that defined the English Language, edited by Jack Lynch, published by Levenger Press, 2004.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is K. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

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7 responses to “Pretty Little Tiny Kickshaws

  1. What an ingenious take on the challenge!

  2. Hello, Anne! There can never, ever be too many books! 🙂 I must get a look at Johnson’s Dictionary. It sounds fascinating and perfect for a word nerd like me!

    Have a lovely weekend and happy A to Z!!

    • Hi Laura. Thanks for stopping by & commenting. In going through my bookcases, I’ve selected several to “recycle” — either sell, gift, or donate. Which means that I’ll have plenty of room for more. Not everyone would look on it as a good thing, but I have an entire small bookcase of books yet to be devoured. No, there is never such a thing as too many books. But, there are never enough bookcases!

  3. Johnson’s dictionary must give the impression of a living language under constant revision and definition.

    Sometimes I wonder what kind of common name I might give a wildflower or plant. Johnson probably has some good ideas. Free of their pejorative tone, “Kitchenwench” or “kicksy-wicksey” might be good ones!