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Vocabulary in The Canterville Ghost

Vocabulary Examples in The Canterville Ghost:

Chapter I.


"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.

"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.

"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."

"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).

"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.

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