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Vocabulary in The Canterville Ghost

Vocabulary Examples in The Canterville Ghost:

Chapter I.

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"republicans..."   (Chapter I.)

As a lower-cased adjective, "republican" refers to someone who strongly believes in and supports a republic, a nation in which the power of the government is held by the people and their elected representatives rather than a king of monarch.

"the Newport Casino..."   (Chapter I.)

Despite the name, the Newport Casino has never been a gambling establishment. Rather, "casino" used to mean a small location for playing various types of games or sports. The Newport Casino was a very popular place for lawn tennis, and in this context, readers can understand that Washington likely participates in such games since he is an athletic young man.

"rector of the parish..."   (Chapter I.)

The title of "rector" has nuances of meaning depending on the context in which it is used. Generally, it refers to a leader of an organization, such as a church, university, or school. So, the Rev. Augustus Dampier serves as a leader of the small administrative district and local church, known as a parish.

"Dowager..."   (Chapter I.)

This word indicates that a woman has been widowed and inherited her land and title from her late husband. It is often used as a modifier, as in this example, and it can also have a more informal meaning to indicate that a woman is older and dignified.

"Providence..."   (Chapter I.)

"Providence" can refer to many things: Fate, divine fortune, the protective care of God, or the protection of nature as a spiritual power.

"Paragon..."   (Chapter I.)

A "paragon" is something considered to be a perfect example that should be copied for its excellence. This can apply to products, people, or anything that can serve as a model.

"rooks..."   (Chapter I.)

Rooks are a type of crow with black plumage that nests in colonies in treetops. Such birds are typically associated with ill omens, death, and the supernatural in literature.

"waggonette..."   (Chapter I.)

A type of carriage, a "waggonette" is a four-wheeled horse-drawn pleasure vehicle, typically open, with facing side seats and one or two seats arranged crosswise in front.

"Amazon..."   (Chapter I.)

This is an allusion to the Amazons in Greek mythology, women warriors noted for their strength and ferocity in battle. Here this word is used to state that Virginia is not only beautiful but adventurous and strong.

"peerage..."   (Chapter I.)

Similar to "aristocracy," "peerage" refers to a European class system that grants titles with privileges according to one's heritage; members of the nobility rank highest in the social order. 

"constitution..."   (Chapter I.)

This refers to the physical nature and health of one's body. It generally accounts for good or poor health and can also mean one's ability to resist disease and hardship.

"painting the Old World red..."   (Chapter I.)

The term "Old World" is an allusion to Europe. Mr. Otis uses a humorous spin on the idiom "painting the town red," which means to spend a great deal of money on all kinds of entertainment.

"Fellow of King's College, Cambridge..."   (Chapter I.)

A "fellow" is a member of a particular group of learned academics who hold special privileges at a college or university. At Cambridge, a centuries-old English university, fellows make up the governing body of the institution and may or may not teach courses. An especially distinguished scholar may be granted the status of Honorary Fellow at a university.

"Minister..."   (Chapter I.)

Mr. Hiram B. Otis is an American Minister, which means he is a kind of diplomat working for the American embassy in England. "Minister" in this case refers to someone who acts under the authority of another and carries out executive duties as a representative for a superior, such as an ambassador.

"furore..."   (Chapter II.)

This is an alternate spelling of the word "furor," which refers to a situation in which many people are angry or upset.

"wainscoting..."   (Chapter II.)

"Wainscoting" refers to a certain type of wooden panels that cover the lower part of the walls of a room or hallway. The area above the wainscoting can be painted plaster, wallpaper, or some other material design.

"eminent native divines..."   (Chapter II.)

In context, Mr. Otis is either referring to the most famous and respected American clergymen or theologians or he is using "native divines" to mean prominent scientists and entrepreneurs.

"phial..."   (Chapter II.)

"Phial" is another word for "vial," which is a small glass container used especially for containing liquid medicines.

"Ye Onlie True and Originale Spook, Beware of Ye Imitationes. All others are counterfeit...."   (Chapter III.)

You Only True and Original Spook, Beware of Your Imitations (those who imitate you). All others (other ghosts) are counterfeit (fake.)

"charnel-house..."   (Chapter III.)

While the term "charnel house" refers to the vaults or buildings where human remains are stored, the term can also mean any place filled with death and destruction. Sir Simon likely plans to reveal the secrets of the dead or the life beyond death to Mr. Otis in an attempt to terrify him.

"Indian..."   (Chapter III.)

"Indian red" refers to a pigment comprised of naturally occurring iron oxides (i.e., rust). The origin of the name for this color comes from the red soil found in India, and this term came into English usage in 1792.

"by long and careful practice on a writing-master..."   (Chapter III.)

Since pea-shooters are simple, small, and concealable, Wilde is pointing out that they have a strong association with classroom pranks and tricks that students often played on their teachers. This strongly suggests that the twins are mischievous children who delight in poking fun at others. They take particular pleasure in trying to prank the ghost.

"pea-shooters..."   (Chapter III.)

Pea-shooters are like toy blowguns. They have a long, hollow tube and a mouthpiece so children and put a pea or a small pellet into the tube and project it out with their breath. The twins use their "weapons" immediately on the ghost while their father pulls out a revolver. The ghost is immediately surprised and enraged by this sudden violence.

"Chanticleer..."   (Chapter III.)

This is an allusion to the vain rooster Chanticleer in "The Nun's Priest's Tale," one of the stories found in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. In the mock epic, Chanticleer takes enormous pride in the sound of his crowing, which is probably why Wilde uses this character here; Sir Simon and Chanticleer both take enormous pride in their respective arts.

"falchion..."   (Chapter III.)

A "falchion" is a particular kind of sword with a broad, slightly curved blade that has a single edge on the convex side.

"Titan..."   (Chapter III.)

This is an allusion to the Titans in Greek mythology, immortal giants of incredible strength, and is used as an adjective to describe something as massive or imposing in size and appearance.

"his own arms and those of his murdered wife were blazoned in azure and gold..."   (Chapter III.)

The window has the coat of arms of Sir Simon and his wife painted on it. Old families in England and Europe often had symbols as unique heraldic designs to represent their families in public affairs.

"kaleidoscopic..."   (Chapter III.)

Like the change of colors when looking through the lens of a kaleidoscope, this adjective refers to something as being multicolored and having a complex pattern of colors.

"chameleon-like..."   (Chapter III.)

This word choice indicates that the blood stain is continually changing colors. Generally, "chameleon-like" can refers to any quick or frequent change, especially in appearance.

"en secondes noces..."   (Chapter IV.)

en secondes noces = [French] "in a second marriage"

"material plane of existence..."   (Chapter IV.)

By "material plane of existence" Sir Simon means that the Americans have no appreciation for spiritual matters (and therefore aesthetics). Wilde possibly also used "material" here to also contrast how the Americans appreciate and value material goods but fail to appreciate "the symbolic value of sensuous phenomena."

"apothecary..."   (Chapter IV.)

This word has fallen out of modern usage. In the past, it referred to someone who prepared and sold drugs and compounds to be used for medicinal purposes. 

"in violent apoplexy..."   (Chapter IV.)

Apoplexy is a condition brought on from a stroke or a hemorrhage in the brain that results in the sudden loss of the ability to feel or move parts of the body.

"euchre..."   (Chapter IV.)

"Euchre" is a card game usually played by two, three, or four persons and uses the highest thirty-two cards. Players are dealt five cards and attempt to take tricks. The word "euchre" means to take advantage or trick another player, and it has the same meaning in informal American English.

"the big garden-syringe..."   (Chapter IV.)

This device is used for watering plants, spraying them with insecticides, etc. It has a pointed end to direct the spray, but it does not end in a sharp point like hypodermic syringes and needles.

"sexton's..."   (Chapter IV.)

A "sexton" is an employee or officer of a church who is responsible for the care and upkeep of church property and sometimes for tasks such as ringing bells and digging graves.

"list slippers..."   (Chapter IV.)

Slippers made of a woven fabric that were worn inside a house in order to walk quietly and not disturb others. List slippers were worn, for instance, when someone in the house was ill.

"horse-pistols..."   (Chapter IV.)

These are large flintlock pistols. Too large to carry as a sidearm, a horse pistol was carried in a holster placed in front of a saddle where the rider could reach it easily. 

"astral..."   (Chapter IV.)

The adjective "astral" describes something as relating to the spirit rather than the physical body and/or consisting of a super-sensible substance not of the tangible world.

"yew-tree..."   (Chapter V.)

Similar to the hemlock, the yew-tree also has a connection to death, folklore, and superstition. This coniferous tree produces red, berrylike fruit that is highly poisonous.

"the hemlock flower..."   (Chapter V.)

Hemlock is a poisonous herb that has purple-colored spots with finely cut leaves and small white flowers. While it can be used medicinally as a powerful sedative, it can also be brewed into a poison that can kill. The plant itself has strong association with death, which is why Sir Simon uses it here to describe the place where he can sleep.

"I have not slept for three hundred years..."   (Chapter V.)

Since Sir Simon is already dead, he cannot sleep in the sense that Virginia can. It takes her a moment to understand that by "sleep" Sir Simon means being finally at peace beyond death.

"blue blood..."   (Chapter V.)

Saying that someone has blue blood is akin to calling them an aristocrat or a noble. "Blue blood" typically characterizes old, noble, and aristocratic families or anyone with upper-class birth or lineage.

"habit..."   (Chapter V.)

Aside from referring to typical behavior, the word "habit" can be used as a synonym for "clothes," referring to any kind of clothing or garment that someone is wearing. When used this way, the word can often be used with an adjective to describe the kind of attire being worn, such as a riding habit.

"heavy duty on spirits of every kind..."   (Chapter V.)

Wild, through Virigina, is having a little fun with the multiple meanings of "spirits." Distilled alcohol can be referred to as "spirits" and such goods are typically taxed (a duty) at high rates when being imported or exported. Since Sir Simon the ghost is also a "spirit," Virginia is suggesting that he would fall under this duty tax as well (if it weren't for the lax policy of the custom house Demoncrats).

"the angel of death..."   (Chapter V.)

The angel of death is described in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as an angel that brings death and sometimes destruction. In popular conceptions of this figure, the angel of death is known as the Grim Reaper.

"Custom House..."   (Chapter V.)

A custom house is a building occupied by government officials who supervise the import and export of goods into and out of a country; a port of entry. 

"ruffs..."   (Chapter V.)

"Ruffs" are stiffly starched frilled or pleated circular collars of lace, muslin, or other fine fabric, which were worn by men and women in the 16th and 17th centuries.

"a sweet puritan gravity..."   (Chapter V.)

This is an allusion to the Puritans, a Protestant sect known for being strict and serious in attitude and behavior. Puritans first immigrated to America in the 1600s aboard the Mayflower and settled in New England.

"cavalier..."   (Chapter V.)

In earlier centuries, a "cavalier" was a man who escorted and protected women. It also meant a kind of soldier. In this context, it refers to the Duke of Cheshire and his courtly behavior around Virginia.

"casket..."   (Chapter VI.)

In American English, a "casket" typically refers to a coffin. However, in British contexts, a "casket" is a small ornamental box typically used to hold jewelry or other valuables.

"Scotland Yard..."   (Chapter VI.)

Referring to Scotland Yard in a context such as this typically means that someone wants to contact the London Metropolitan Police's Criminal Investigation Department. The name derives from the location of the original police headquarters on Great Scotland Yard in London. Fearing that Virginia has been kidnapped or worse, the Otis family resolves to call the police as their next best chance at finding her, heightening the suspense of the search.

"common..."   (Chapter VI.)

Short for "common land" or "common estate," in this context the word "common" refers to a large area of land that belongs to the community as a whole. For itinerant groups like gypsies, locations such as these make ideal camping grounds because they are close to towns and freely available.

"scapegrace..."   (Chapter VI.)

A chiefly British word, a "scapegrace" playfully refers to a man or boy (rarely a girl or woman) who is mischievous, reckless, and disorderly, similar to words like "scamp" or "rascal."

"footmen..."   (Chapter VI.)

In household contexts, particularly affluent ones, "footmen" are male servants who admit visitors to the house and serve food at the dinner table. They are typically dressed in a special uniform and also attend coaches or carriages. The presence of servants in the Otis household is an interesting integration of a typically British custom and occupation.

"eau de cologne..."   (Chapter VI.)

[French] "cologne water" Like perfume, cologne has a pleasant scent, but it is not as strong as the smell of perfume. The housekeeper uses this on Mrs. Otis's head to try and calm her.

"a linen-draper..."   (Chapter VI.)

This can refer to a cloth merchant or a haberdasher. In this context, it means a merchant who sells men's clothing.

"gipsies..."   (Chapter VI.)

Spelled "gypsies" currently, they are traditionally itinerant people who originated in northern India and now live chiefly in south and southwest Asia, Europe, and North America.

"chancel..."   (Chapter VII.)

The part of a church that contains the altar and seats for the priest and choir.

"mortmain..."   (Chapter VII.)

In this context, "mortmain" refers to the practice of family ownership of property deriving from its being owned in the past by a member of the family. That is, because the past has influence over the present, the jewels would belong to Lord Canterville since he was the prior owner of the Chase.

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