Early East India Company merchants and a rare word for sex

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The records of the British East India Company are an uncharted source for historical linguistics and lexicography. In particular, letters between Company employees stationed in the East Indies contain a large amount of colloquial language use. Among the more or less standardized reporting on business matters, there are discussions of all aspects of private life, such as food, drink and, occasionally, sex. This paper investigates a hapax legomenon in the correspondence of early East India Company merchants in Japan (1613–1623): the use of lapidable to mean ‘mature for sexual intercourse.’ The word is traced in Early and Late Modern English dictionaries and primary texts, and the paper ends with a discussion of East India Company merchants and creative language use.


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