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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for VAPOURS

This post is for all you Victorian fans out there, and note how the spelling of vapours has the British "u" in it? So very Victorian.

VAPOURS is a word commonly used in eighteenth-century literature to account for eccentricity. VAPOURS were exhalations, given off by the stomach or other organs of the body, that rose to the head, causing depression, melancholy, hysteria, and so forth. In 1541 Sir Thomas Elyot wrote that "of humours some are more grosse and cold, some are subtyl and hot and are called vapours." Heroines of eighteenth-century fiction were particularly susceptible. Young, in 1728, produced these lines:

Sometimes, thro' pride the sexes change their airs;
My lord has vapours, and my lady swears.

Too bad the Victorians didn't have access to that other V word, Valium, which would cure their vapours quite well. As a matter of fact, too bad we modern women don't have access to it, except when we go to the dentist. Okay, maybe it's good we don't, after all.


(This post has been inspired by and in some instances, directly quoted from A Handbook to Literature, 8th Edition, by William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman)

30 comments:

  1. it was good to have something to blame strange behaviour on ....

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  2. I'm all for bringing on the vapours when I'm in a swoon! :-) take care
    x

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  3. I think we should hit the valium to fend off the vapours. You never know and it's better to be safe than sorry. ;)

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  4. The vapours were quite convenient as a way to get out of facing anything one wanted to avoid. Can't go to Aunt Matilda's 'cause I had the vapours--but I'm better, now, so I can make Lord Fanning's card party.

    On the downside, people shoved all sort of things in one's face to rout the vapours: ammonia, burnt feathers, burnt paper....

    Regency Romance fan? Me? ;)

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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  5. Hee hee. Silly vapours. They caused so much havoc!

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  6. Ah, wish I could use the vapours as an excuse sometimes!

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  7. There is also a modern urban slang term involving vapors now, but it means something different.

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  8. Haha! I love it. For the letter "U" yesterday, I did a whole post on the UK, and the addition of extra "U"s.
    http://mickeyburdick.blogspot.com/2011/04/u-is-for-united-kingdom.html

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  9. My English friends tell me I misspell "Behaviour" in my book title. ;)

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  10. Considering how tight some of the corsets were, it's surprising women didn't have the vapours more often!

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  11. Jennifer, Haha, don't they know about our little quirks over here?

    Mickey, Must go check that out. I haven't been to visit your blog for awhile. I'm missing out!

    Matthew, Thank you for not telling me what it is. And I seriously mean that :)

    Liza, Well, we still have headaches, right?

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  12. There are some words that should not have disappeared from the vernacular. Vapours is one of them. It just says so much, doesn't it?
    Karen

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  13. Wasn't it the corsetts that gave women the vapours (and also changed the shape and position of their vital organs) ? I must find my smelling salts :O)

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  14. Wonderful! Think I'll be using vapours as an excuse for just about everything from here on out...

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  15. Oh neat. I think I remember reading or watching a Jane Austen movie and somebody mentioning that someone had a case of the vapours and I didn't know what it meant. Now I do! :)

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  16. I read somewhere once upon a time that the word "vapours" meant they had "gas." As in ... er... they were flatulent. (and probably odiferous, too!) 'Course, the smell probably got trapped in those corsets, and escaped in one foul blast when the ladies got undressed ...

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  17. Susan, Well doesn't that sound so much more dignified than how we modern ones refer to the same condition. And as to the undressing, perhaps the lowliest maidservant had to take the back?

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  18. That so reminds me of my very English grandmother! I can just picture her with the back of her hand pressed to her forehead, claiming to have the vapours. She definitely could have used a valium, that gal.

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  19. I think it would sometimes be nice to just say "i'm having an attack of the vapours", and whatever you did, it would be written off!
    On the other hand, they were very dismissive of women in those days, and I'd never be able to put up with that.

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  20. the modern day word that accounts for eccentricity: writer.

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  21. Wasn't it Scarlett's Aunt Pittypat in Gone With the Wind that always had the vapours? It could have been caused by a too-tight corset, but I swear I sometimes get them too.

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  22. Oh Karen, laughing here. Vapours to Valium...how apt. Still giggling.

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  23. LOL. Medieval medicine is so cute ;)

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  24. I am continually amazed at how I misunderstood stuff I read. My definition was totally out of whack. I will NOT tell you what I thought because it is too embarrasing.

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  25. Yes! Something else I can add to my "reasons why I can't (fill in the blank)."

    It's a full moon.
    Must by pms.
    Allergies acting up.
    It's those pesky vapours!

    Love this post!

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  26. Love the Victorians. LOVE. I love Susan's interpretation of the vapours further up this comment thread even more.

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  27. Glad you mentioned the correct British spelling of 'vapour' with a 'u'! Made me smile :)

    Duncan In Kuantan

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  28. I love the vapours to Valium connection. What a great word. And I, too, learned something new today.

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  29. Hi Karen .. sometimes it is just the right word to use .. the context all falls into place .. a 'rush to the head' .. faint feeling .. good V word though .. especially Victorian Vapours with a touch of Valium .. cheers Hilary

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