Aubin and the OED

Note: pages in our 18c Leverhulme study section were originally published on the website in 2010. Links have since been checked and updated.

Despite her popularity and her importance for the history of the novel, Aubin’s work was not once quoted in OED1, nor in OED2. As already noted, her language was highly conventional: she uses virtually no neologisms and only rarely antedates or postdates OED’s record (see next page). On the far more numerous occasions where OED’s 18th-century gap in quotations can be made good with examples from her work, the usages in question can readily be found in other 18th-century texts too.

OED Additions 1993

By whatever means, the OED lexicographers seem first to have became aware of the possible lexical value of Aubin’s work when preparing the 1993 volume of the Additions, i.e. the interim collections of new words that appeared in the 1990s, after the completion of OED2 in 1989 and before the first appearance of OED3 in 2000 (see Which edition contains what?). Here Aubin is quoted for one (uncharacteristically) striking word:

Yasa: ‘A codification of Mongol customary laws ascribed to Genghis Khan, and used as the basis of law in much of Asia under Mongol rule.’

Aubin’s 1722 translation of François Pétis de la Croix’s The History of Genghizcan the Great supplies the earliest quotation:

1722 P. AUBIN tr. F. Pétis de la Croix’s Hist. Genghizcan I. vi. 79 After the Salutations they began to read the Yassa… The Laws in the Mogul Language are called Yassa, and sometimes Yasac

and the next quotation is dated a full 207 years later, from Customary Law of Mongol Tribes, published 1929. The remaining quotations are also 20th-century, finishing with one from The Economist of 1990. Presumably Aubin is carrying over into her English translation a word she found in de la Croix’s History, and presumably he transliterated it from the original language.


Aubin has so far been given comparatively slight prominence in OED3. As of September 2009, the revision has included only a further 34 quotations from her writings (making a total of 35 in all), although these are widely distributed: all seven of her novels are now quoted as well as a couple of her translations. A complete list can be found at the foot of this page.

Is it possible to characterize the words for which she is quoted, or come to some conclusion about how and why she is treated in OED3? If one runs one’s eye down the list of words yielded by electronic searching (see below), few are lexically unusual or notable (barring Mogul, which like Yasa comes from her translation of The History of Genghizcan). Searching electronically for ‘first quotations’, i.e. those occurring at the beginning of an entry and therefore indicating something interesting about the author’s contribution to the language (i.e. that s/he was among the first to use a new word or sense), yields no fruit either, other than Yasa as discussed above.

Individual quotations

We can refine this picture by looking up Aubin’s quotations individually in OED3 (not an impracticable job with such a small total). Two of them turn out to be ‘first quotations’ despite not turning up in electronic searches, because they are first quotations of a particular sense of a word, not the chronologically first quotation in the entry.

The first – girl to mean ‘(black) slave’ – looks very interesting indeed, since it antedates OED3’s other examples for this sense by nearly 100 years (the next quotation after Aubin is dated 1835). It is questionable, however, whether Aubin’s context has been rightly interpreted. OED3’s full definition for this sense (7b in the entry for girl, draft revision September 2008) is ‘A black female servant or domestic employee; (in earlier use) a female slave’), for which Aubin is quoted from her novel The Noble Slaves:

1739 P. AUBIN Noble Slaves xi. 100 His Master had bought a Girl, much resembling her I described; but he had sent her into the Country, and I could not see her

The girl in question, Anna, is Venetian, not (necessarily) ‘black’, and although in this context Anna has undeniably been treated as a slave (she has been ‘bought’), the term girl is liberally used elsewhere in the novel to mean both ‘female servant’ and ‘female child/young person’ (examples, not comprehensive, may be identified by using the electronic searches available on ECCO).

Aubin is also cited in OED3 for the equivalent male usage, boy meaning ‘young male servant [but not necessarily ‘black’]’, as in ‘1721 P. AUBIN Life Madam de Beaumount ii. 36, I resolved to continue in the Cave, with my two Servants, my Maid, and a Boy, whom I had brought from France’; this usage is much older (first recorded c. 1300).

Note added August 2018: after the current page was originally published in Dec 2009 Aubin’s quotation for girl was removed from the revised OED entry, leaving the first recorded use for the sense (‘black female servant’) as 1835. Despite this post-2009 change, the revised entry – confusingly – retains its original date, namely June 2008.

The other first quotation from Aubin in OED3 is for thoughtless, s.v. sense 4, ‘Lacking consideration for others’ (draft entry September 2009):

a1731 P. AUBIN Lucinda in Coll. Hist. & Novels (1739) I. 252 How can a noble Soul whose delight it is to do merciful and generous Actions, be pleased in giving Misery and Pain? When you act thus you are thoughtless of a Parent’s Care, or of a filial Duty, a Return unworthy for the Life they gave you.

Here Aubin antedates the next quotation (dated 1742, from the poet Edward Young) by a few years only – i.e. her usage looks much more in line with that of her coevals. (OED3 is wrong to date Lucinda ‘a1731’, by the way. The novel was first published in 1722 and the quotation for thoughtless can be found on p. 110 of that edition).

As this last quotation shows, individual manual searches of Aubin’s citations in OED3 tell us that the revisers are often citing her for distinctive words which conjure up the flavour of her plots, their settings, and the moral and physical trials of her characters, e.g.

  • abortion: 1726 P. AUBIN Lady Lucy iii. 34, I purchas’d and gave her such Drugs as could cause Abortion, but in vain, and she grew big.
  • offensively: a1731 P. AUBIN Lucinda 221 Being well armed, both offensively and defensively, he had not much Occasion to fear.
  • rankled: 1722 P. AUBIN Noble Slaves xxvi. 166 He had three Wounds in his Stomach and Breast, which appear’d not to be fresh, but foul and rankled.
  • ravished: 1728 P. AUBIN Life & Adventures Young Count Albertus v. 98 Hear the wretched Anna’s Pray’r, My ravish’d Liberty restore.

But Aubin is also being cited for a handful of ‘bread-and-butter’ usages, i.e. the standard lexicon used in unremarkable ways (however romantic and characterful the quotation), e.g.

  • nevertheless: a1731 P. AUBIN Life & Amorous Adventures Lucinda in Coll. Entertaining Histories & Novels (1739) I. 171 They were all masked, and therefore not to be known by me: I nevertheless took the Courage to ask them, what was the Reason of this Usage, and where was my Servant?
  • nothing: 1739 P. AUBIN Madam de Beaumont i. 238 Our homely Cell, indeed, is nothing like the splendid Places I have heard you talk of.

Go to next page for examples of further quotations from Aubin’s work that OED3 should consider quoting in the future.

OED3’s quotations from Penelope Aubin, complete as of September 2009 (35 in all)


 WordDate and source (as given in OED)
1abortion, n.1726P. Aubin Lady Lucy iii. 34, I purch
2boy, n.1 and int.1721P. Aubin Life Madam de Beaumount ii
3free, v.a1731P. Aubin Lady Lucy (1739) iv. 131 H
4girl, n.1739P. Aubin Noble Slaves xi. 100 His M
5heaven, n.1728P. Aubin Life & Adventures Young Co
6heaven, n.1721P. Aubin Strange Adventures Count d
7life, n.1728P. Aubin Life & Adventures Young Co
8life, n.1723P. Aubin Charlotta Du Pont xii. 113
9livelihood, n.11723P. Aubin Life Charlotta Du Pont xxi
10mad, adv.1739P. Aubin Charlotta Du Pont xxii. 22
11Mogul, n.1 and adj.1722P. Aubin tr. F. Petis de la Croix H
12nevertheless, adv.a1731P. Aubin Life & Amorous Adventures
13nothing, pron., and n., adv., and int.1739P. Aubin Madam de Beaumont i. 238 O
14now, adv., conj., n.1, and adj.1739P. Aubin Count de Vinevil 3 Now the
15nuptial, adj. and n.1739P. Aubin Count Albertus vi. 268 The
16offensively, adv.a1731P. Aubin Lucinda 221 Being well arm
17open, v.1739P. Aubin Noble Slaves iii. 20 At la
18out-gate, n.2a1731P. Aubin Madam de Beaumont (1739) 2
19outroom, n.1739P. Aubin Count de Vinevil v. 25 He
20over-desirous, adj.1739P. Aubin Lucinda 292 Being not over
21overjoy, v.1739P. Aubin Madam de Beaumont ii. 246
22peel, v.11739P. Aubin Charlotta Du Pont xxii. 20
23pistol, n.1726P. Aubin Lady Lucy iv. 45 One of th
24predestination, n.1722P. Aubin tr. F. Petis de la Croix H
25product, n.1a1731P. Aubin Lady Lucy (1739) iii. 109
26protest, v.a1731P. Aubin Lucinda (1739) 188 One who
27pull, v.1727P. Aubin tr. R. Challes Illustrious
28purchasing, n.1739P. Aubin Count Albertus vii. 278, I
29put, v.1728P. Aubin Life & Adventures Young Co
30quiet, adj. and adv.a1731P. Aubin Noble Slaves in Coll. Ente
31rankled, adj.1722P. Aubin Noble Slaves xxvi. 166 He
32ravished, adj.1728P. Aubin Life & Adventures Young Co
33space, n.1a1731P. Aubin Noble Slaves in Coll. Ente
34thoughtless, adj.a1731P. Aubin Lucinda in Coll. Hist. & N
35Yasa, n.1722P. Aubin tr. F. Petis de la Croix's

Last updated on 16 September 2019