In "To His Coy Mistress," what does "quaint honour" mean?

In "To His Coy Mistress," the phrase "quaint honour" refers to the addressee's virginity, suggesting that her determination to remain chaste is somewhat absurd.

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In "To His Coy Mistress," Andrew Marvell tells the addressee that when she is dead, her "quaint honour" will turn to dust. A woman's honor was closely associated with her chastity, and reputation for purity, so "honor" in this context is clearly a euphemism for virginity. This is straightforward enough, but Marvell's description of the woman's honor as "quaint" is a particularly interesting choice of adjective. First, there is a pun here, as "quaint" was an old-fashioned word for the female genitalia. However, the word was seldom used in Marvell's time, and is merely the echo of a double entendre.

The primary meaning of quaint, in the seventeenth-century as today, was "pretty in an unusual or outdated way." As a description of an object, the intention is often to damn with faint praise. To describe someone's home or interior décor as quaint, for instance, is almost to insult them, saying that whatever charm it possesses is unsophisticated. The description of the addressee's attachment to her virginity as "quaint" is, therefore, suggests that she is a simple country girl, unused to the polished life of the court and the city, where all the smartest people are having affairs.

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