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)