Oxford University, sepia toned, and then some (The topic seemed a bit academic...)
When one moves (or simply delves into old boxes full of "items"), it is amazing what can be found. I re-located my old copy of "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew", and began re-reading it, fascinated with the depth of detail it contained about the Victorian age.
The "steamy" part of Steampunk is certainly the technological extrapolation about steam, strange science, ect… However, the foundation of Steampunk lays with the Victorian era – alien to us as the current world will most certainly be 100 years from now. Still, after reading the glossary of Mr. Daniel Pool’s book, I though I might transcribe a few (ok – a good portion) of his glossary, to provide perhaps a bit of insight into the Victorian age, and the basis of the beloved genre.
As such, starting with the "A"s, all reference are from the aforementioned book:
Poole, D, (1993). "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew", by Touchstone Publications, New York: New York.
Abagail – A lady’s maid
Acceptance – The act of putting one’s name on a bill of exchange and writing "accepted" across it, which then made one liable to pay it.
Accommodation note or bill – A bill of exchange that one "accepted" for someone else so he could, in effect, borrow money based on one’s creditworthiness.
Act – A piece of legislation that had passed both Houses of Parliament, been signed by the Monarch and became law; before that, it was called a "bill".
Advocate – The name given to the lawyers (counterparts of the serjeants in the common law courts and barristers in the Court of Chancery) who argued cases in the old courts of ecclesiastical law and admiralty law in the Doctor’s Commons. The protectors, corresponding to the solicitors in the other courts, assisted the advocates.
Ague – Basically, malaria and the chills that went with it. Later generalized to include any similar fevers or chills.
Ale – What was the difference between ale and beer? Sometimes the term "beer" included ale. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes ale was supposed to be stronger than beer, sometimes not.
Almshouse – Lodgings for the poor supported by private rather than public charity. Publicly funded lodgings were called poorhouses or workhouses.
Antimacassar – The Victorian gentleman often applied macassar oil to his hair. To prevent it from coming off all over the furniture, Victorian ladies pinned antimacassars – little white doilies – on their armchairs and sofas where a gentleman’s head would be. Considering the other hair-control substances that it might have come in contact with the nineteenth century sofa, macassar oil might not have been so bad – David Copperfield also instances beef suet and bear’s grease.