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Vocabulary in Babbitt

Vocabulary Examples in Babbitt:

Chapter I

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"New York Flyer..."   (Chapter I)

The New York Flyer is a train that zooms along the city railroad. This train is an invention of Lewis’s, assumedly to further highlight the modernity of the city. The image of the train, alongside other description of the city, serves to cast Zenith as the model of successful American industrialization.

"Good Fellows..."   (Chapter I)

A Good Fellow is an affable, companionable person. Generally, it is used to refer to a man who fits into conventional expectations of his race, class, and gender. Babbitt’s association with these clubs makes him feel like a “good fellow.”

"Verona been at it again! 'Stead of sticking to Lilidol, like I've re-peat-ed-ly asked her, she's gone and gotten some confounded stinkum stuff that makes you sick!..."   (Chapter I)

Lilidol was a type of toothpaste, and here Babbitt uses religious language to discuss the products that he is loyal to. He calls his daughter’s toothpaste “heathen toothpaste” because it is not the right brand. Since a “heathen” is a person who does not belong to a widely held religion and is thought to lack cultural and moral principles, Babbitt is suggesting that loyalty to a brand is akin to loyalty to God, thereby blending religion and consumerism.

"Himself a pious motorist, Babbitt cranked with the unseen driver, with him waited through taut hours for the roar of the starting engine..."   (Chapter I)

The adjective “pious” is generally used to describe someone who expresses true reverence and obedience to God. Pious individuals are devoutly religious. Notice, however, that the narrator describes Babbitt’s piety in association with cars. His prayers and devout religion praise the U.S. automotive industry instead of God. This not only sets up Babbitt as an avid capitalist and the era as a period that is remarkably unreligious.

"veldt..."   (Chapter I)

The noun “veldt” means field or open pasture in South Africa. This allusion to the African plains suggests the global nature of American business ventures.

"Zenith..."   (Chapter I)

The word “zenith” is a noun that means the highest point of the sky overhead. Figuratively, it means the highest point or state, the culmination or climax. This definition of the word can be interpreted as a satirical comment on U.S. culture. If the town of Zenith, an ordinary midwestern town full of office buildings, is the pinnacle of U.S. achievement, then it mocks the culture and the success it stands for.

"fellows at the Roughnecks' Table..."   (Chapter V)

A “Roughneck” is a colloquial term for a blue-collar worker. George expresses some guilt about his depression, considering that he is of a higher social status than “the fellows at the Roughnecks’ Table.” This suggests that depression and malaise are taboo to discuss among the wealthier classes.

"grenadier andirons..."   (Chapter VII)

Andirons are horizontal iron bars upon which logs can be laid for burning in a fireplace. Andirons usually come as a pair, and are commonly carved into intricate shapes or figures. Since “grenadier” means a soldier (one typically armed with grenades), we can assume that the Babbit’s andirons were shaped like two soldiers as part of a matching set.

"arcanum..."   (Chapter VIII)

The noun “arcanum” comes from the Latin word “arcanus,” meaning secret or mystery. Here, Lewis uses the word to demonstrate how Fink normally keeps his literary life to himself, but now feels confident enough to confide in the group.

"while she lamented her feminine ignorance, and praised his masterfulness, and proved to know much more about bonds than he did...."   (Chapter XXIX)

This is an interesting passage to examine the gender dynamic between Tanis and Babbitt. Deferring to Babbitt’s ego, she lets him advise her on how to handle her finances, but eventually she reveals that she is more knowledgeable than he is without boasting of it. Notice the use of the word “feminine”—it implies that Tanis is pretending ignorance and deferring to Babbitt due to the expectations of her gender rather than her ability. This instance of conformity to social norms shows that Tanis is not as above popular culture as she pretends to be.

"skunks and reds..."   (Chapter XXIX)

In this context, the noun “skunk” means a contemptible person; that Gunch equates “Reds”—also known as communists—with detestable philosophers like Doane is telling of what he thinks of the labor movement. The color red is typically associated with labor movements to symbolize the blood and sacrifice of hard workers.

""turned crank."..."   (Chapter XXIX)

The noun “crank” means someone who is eccentrically obsessed with a particular idea or theory. It is typically used as an insult.

"pontifical..."   (Chapter XXX)

The adjective “pontifical” references the Roman Catholic figurehead, the pope, who is said to be infallible on religious matters. The pope frequently blesses his congregation through hand signals, which the action this passage references.

"He bought roses for the house, he ordered squab for dinner, he had the car cleaned and polished...."   (Chapter XXX)

Babbitt’s preparation for his wife’s return is appropriately focused on appearances rather than substance. He focuses on cleaning the house and orders a fancy food—”squab” is a word for pigeon—to impress Myra when she returns by appearing respectable and middle-class.

"Patience on a Monument..."   (Chapter XXXI)

The “monument” spoken of here refers to a gravestone. During the Renaissance, it was not uncommon for tombstones to include a statue of a virtue at their top. Patience was often represented as a figure of pensive sorrow; Tanis’s mother has mastered the art of making Tanis feel guilty with only a look.

"you raised Cain..."   (Chapter XXXII)

The phrase “to raise Cain” alludes to the biblical story of Cain and his brother, Abel, whom Cain murdered for his own gain. Consequently, it means to unsettle order through acts of mischief or violence. Though it often carries a negative connotation, Ted clearly admires his father’s actions.

""But I mean NICE people!"..."   (Chapter XXXII)

Notice the assumption that there are nice—here meaning wealthy, sophisticated, and well-connected—people and others whose opinions don’t matter. To offend the first group is social suicide; to offend the second is of no consequence. Myra, though saddened by the ruling conformity of the time, still believes in its relevance and the possibility of good through their adherence to it.

""Four-flusher! Bunch of hot air! And what's the matter with the immigrants? Gosh, they aren't all ignorant, and I got a hunch we're all descended from immigrants ourselves."..."   (Chapter XXXII)

Babbitt’s insults toward the congressman (a “four-flusher” is one who bluffs at poker, having four of a kind instead of the five required for a flush, whereas being full of “hot air” means someone who talks passionately without saying anything substantial) show that he is still able to think critically rather than just conform to expected opinion. He also astutely observes that he and his compatriots owe their existence to immigrants, and that immigrants are not by default uneducated—an unpopular notion in this group, which will cause him to quickly take back his observation.

"hotter 'n the hinges of Hades!..."   (Chapter XXXIII)

The word “Hades,” though originating in Greek myth, is used here to describe the Christian hell, which is typically portrayed as a fiery residence for immoral people. It was thought that hell had metal gates, which would be heated from the internal fire’s warmth.

"dicker..."   (Chapter XXXIV)

The verb “dicker” means to argue about something petty or to treat a topic casually.

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