Vocabulary in A Christmas Carol
Vocabulary Examples in A Christmas Carol:
"his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat),..." See in text (Stave One)
While today a “comforter” means a quilt or duvet, in Dickens’s time it meant a long, wide scarf or “lap robe,” usually slightly ragged and worn about the waist. This description of Cratchit shows that he is relatively poor, because he is unable to afford a proper winter coat. In addition, it is interesting to note that while Scrooge is completely covered up from the cold, Cratchit is more open to the elements. This perhaps signifies the contrast between Scrooge’s complete isolation from society and Cratchit’s more open persona.
"water-plug ..." See in text (Stave One)
A water-plug is another expression for a fire hydrant. Here it is covered in ice.
" Bedlam..." See in text (Stave One)
The noun “Bedlam” is a colloquial word meaning a scene of chaos and uproar. It originates from a shortening of the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem, an asylum for the mentally ill in England.
"flowery..." See in text (Stave One)
The adjective “flowery” means overly stylish or elaborate. Because Scrooge is eager to end the meeting with the ghost, he insists that the ghost get to the point of his visit, because Scrooge believes the ghost is wasting his time.
"procuring..." See in text (Stave One)
The word "procuring" in this line means an action of causing or arranging something to happen, particularly through an agent (in this case, Marley's Ghost). By phrasing it this way, the Ghost ensures that Scrooge knows that the Ghost is giving him this chance to save him from sharing the same fate.
"would play, Scrooge felt, the very deuce with him..." See in text (Stave One)
This expression, "to play the deuce with," means to have an ill affect on someone. Scrooge feels that silently staring at the eyes of Marley's ghost would cause him harm in some way.
"waggish..." See in text (Stave One)
From context, we can conclude that "waggish" means something like being humorous in a playful or facetious manner. Since Scrooge is not predisposed to making jokes, this attempt at humor is likely a way for him to calm his nerves.
"Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels..." See in text (Stave One)
While "bowels" likely refers to mercy or compassion, Dickens cleverly uses it with multiple meanings here. This word can also refer to the organs within the human body, and since Marley's ghostly form is transparent, there is a literal interpretation to his not having any bowels.
"a coach-and-six..." See in text (Stave One)
The word "coach" refers to a type of carriage that is drawn by horses. The number that follows this word simply tells someone how many horses are pulling the coach—in this case, six. In addition to the echoes, this flight of stairs is meant to convey how large Scrooge's home is.
"pig-tail..." See in text (Stave One)
Since the tails of pigs are short and curly, the noun "pigtail" can refer to anything that shares these qualities. Since Marley's face appeared on the front of the door, Scrooge is half-expecting to see the backside of Marley's head, with his hair gathered at the back.
"the corporation, aldermen, and livery..." See in text (Stave One)
These three positions cover the range from government employees to the private sector: The "corporation" refers to business folk, the "aldermen" are council members close to the mayor, and the "livery" refers to the livery companies of London that included trade associations and guilds.
"what is called fancy about him as any man in the City of London..." See in text (Stave One)
Into the 19th century, this word "fancy" was synonymous with "imagination" and represented a person's ability to creatively conjure images in their minds. The narrator is establishing that Scrooge, like any man in London, lacks imagination. Given Dickens's distaste for the affluent, this comment speaks to how Dickens perceived the wealthy elite.
"He was going to say “to a shade,” but substituted this, as more appropriate..." See in text (Stave One)
The term “shade” has a double meaning that Dickens is playing on here. On the one hand, a “shade” can mean “a small amount of difference”—typically in reference to a difference in color. However, the term can also mean “ghost” or “spirit.” Marley encompasses both meanings because he is not only a ghost, but he is also being particular about something that makes little difference.
"Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels..." See in text (Stave One)
The term “bowels” during this time was used to refer to “bowels of compassion” or “bowels of mercy.” The phrase comes from the past belief that different emotional capacities came from certain organs of the body. When Scrooge states that people often said that “Marley had no bowels,” he may be trying to defend his own actions. In other words, Scrooge is admittedly not compassionate, but Marley is not perfect either.
"gruel..." See in text (Stave One)
“Gruel” is a meal made by boiling cereal or oats in water. It was considered food for the poor and was typically fed to prisoners or laborers in workhouses because it was so cheap. Many of these people subsisted solely on gruel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which Dickens illustrates as extremely insufficient in his novel Oliver Twist. It is important to note that Scrooge certainly has the funds to afford a more substantial meal, but refuses to do so due to his miserly nature.
"liberality..." See in text (Stave One)
The word "liberality" means that someone is open to giving or freely spending money. Additionally, it can mean being open to new ideas. Considering that Scrooge and Marley shared many of the same beliefs, Dickens is likely having fun with this line. Marley likely wouldn't have been liberal with his money, and so the two gentlemen are simply using this phrasing to encourage Scrooge to donate.
"Genius of the Weather..." See in text (Stave One)
Although the term “genius” is currently used in the United States to mean something like “extremely intelligent or creative,” in Roman mythology a “genius” refers to a divine guardian of powerful entities. “Weather” would have been one of these guarded entities, along with other powerful natural phenomenon such as earthquakes and volcanoes. Dickens personifies the weather as an entity casting “fog and frost” at London.
"congenial..." See in text (Stave One)
While many of us readily associate "congenial" with the quality of being pleasant, Dickens uses it here with another meaning: that something is suitable or appropriate. The winter weather is quite bad, and so the fog appropriately covers the keyhole. Additionally, given the weather and temperature, the frost is even more appropriate for the situation, which reflects the intended use of "congenial" in this line.
"flaring links..." See in text (Stave One)
Since the fog and darkness have become thicker, people have gone into the street with "flaring links," or torches. These types of torches are made of tow (flax fiber) and pitch—or sometimes tallow or wax—and were often used in the 19th century to help provide light for people on the streets.
"in a more facetious temper than was usual with him..." See in text (Stave One)
By a "facetious" temper, Dickens means that Scrooge is (slightly) more pleasant, joking, or humorous than is usual for him. Having told the two gentlemen to leave and not given them any money, Scrooge's mood improves, further illustrating how much he prefers to hoard his money and not help others.
"Humbug!..." See in text (Stave One)
This is the word that many associate with Scrooge. The word itself is Dickens's own creation, and it means something similar to "nonsense."
"like ruddy smears..." See in text (Stave One)
The word "ruddy" means that something is a healthy, reddish color, particularly from outdoor life. Dickens makes a point of associating the color of the candles with a healthy connotation to contrast with the bleak cold. They provide a healthy light in the neighboring offices, but not in Scrooge's counting-house.
"nuts..." See in text (Stave One)
While in American English, the word "nuts" can be used to mean "mad" or "crazy," this British usage is quite different. Dickens uses "nuts" to mean that Scrooge is very fond of, or enthusiastic about, being separate from other people.
"foggy withal..." See in text (Stave One)
That is, the weather was not only cold, bleak, and biting, but it was also foggy. The word "withal" means "in addition" or it draws attention to something else that is worthy of consideration. The tale begins on Christmas Eve, but Dickens wants to emphasize just how terrible the weather is on what should be a happy day.
"a trifle..." See in text (Stave One)
A "trifle" can be anything of little to no importance, but since this word is situated in context with beggars, we can understand that it means a coin or a very small amount of money.
"Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!..." See in text (Stave One)
Dickens uses this expression to directly establish Scrooge as someone who jealously guards and hoards money. The "grindstone" refers to someone who creates grain from seeds, and so a "tight-fisted hand" means that someone who makes grain (or anything for a profit) does their best to hold on to as much of their grain as possible.
"’Change..." See in text (Stave One)
The apostrophe at the start of this word indicates that part of it has been omitted. The full word is "exchange," or a place where merchants meet to transact business through buying and selling goods, stocks, etc. Since Scrooge's name is "good upon the 'Change," this means he is a skilled, and likely shrewd, trader.
"brood..." See in text (Stave Two)
A "brood" refers to a group of young animals, but it is sometimes used to refer to all the members, or specifically the children, in a family.
"dowerless..." See in text (Stave Two)
From context, we can understand that this adjective means that the girl has little in the way of monetary possessions. This is the adjective form of the noun "dower," which at one time had the same meaning as a "dowry," or the money brought into a marriage by the bride.
"A golden one..." See in text (Stave Two)
While she literally is referring to Scrooge's pursuit of gold, this statement also serves as a biblical allusion. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he saw that his fellows were worshipping a golden calf—a false idol. The girl's calling Scrooge's idol "a golden one" speaks to his pursuit of wealth as being as equally sinful as the behavior of the Hebrews.
"idol..." See in text (Stave Two)
An "idol" can be anything that someone greatly admires, loves, or worships. It also has connections to the Christian and Hebrew religions because one of the Ten Commandments states that one should not worship false idols, meaning that God is the only being worthy of worship.
"jocund..." See in text (Stave Two)
This adjective, "jocund," depicts someone as joyous, cheerful, and lighthearted. Scrooge sees and knows everyone in this vision of his past, and their happiness is reflected in the Christmas season.
"bloom..." See in text (Stave Two)
While a "bloom" is most often associated with flowers, this noun also refers to a healthy, red coloring of the cheek. It is also used figuratively to suggest a state of beauty or youth. Despite the strange figure's apparent age, this word choice suggests that its essence is actually somewhat youthful and vibrant.
"repeater..." See in text (Stave Two)
A "repeater" is a special kind of clock or watch. The name comes from the mechanical function which allows someone to press a button on the device, and it will chime the last our struck. Scrooge, perplexed and believing that the outside clock is broken, tries to use his own device to assess what the correct time is.
"reclamation..." See in text (Stave Two)
“Reclamation” in this context means the act of reforming someone, or changing them, for the better. The ghosts are going to help Scrooge in his reclamation by showing him visions of the past, present, and future, in the hopes of instilling or unmasking compassion and empathy.
"latent..." See in text (Stave Two)
The term “latent” in this context means something like “dormant” or “unseen.” Dickens uses this word to illustrate the overwhelming loneliness that Scrooge felt. The house is described as empty and melancholy, and the term “latent” suggests that this will not change—there has not been and will not be anyone to reveal themselves.
"Out upon merry Christmas!..." See in text (Stave Two)
“Out upon!” is a command that was commonly used in the past to mean something close to “away with!” or “shame upon!” While Scrooge admits that he is momentarily experiencing the cheer and elation that he felt for Christmas as a child, he invalidates these feelings immediately. There seems to be something painful about these memories for Scrooge.
"half-recumbent attitude..." See in text (Stave Two)
“Recumbent” means lying down or reclining. “Attitude” in this context means something like “position.” In other words, Scrooge has sat up in his bed, startled by the visitor at his bedside.
"twelfth-cakes..." See in text (Stave Three)
This large cake is used for the celebrations of the Twelfth-night, or the evening before Epiphany and the general closing of the Christmas celebrations. It is usually frosted, ornamented, and contains a voting bean or coin that is used to decide the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of the feast.
"sucking-pigs..." See in text (Stave Three)
These are newborn or very young pigs that are prepared by roasting them whole, which is why a former name for them is "roasting pig."
"execrable..." See in text (Stave Three)
“Execrable” is an adjective used to describe something that is awful or very unpleasant. Topper’s behavior during the game of Blind Man’s Buff is execrable because he continually chases the “plump sister” even though there were other players, which she states is unfair. Furthermore, Topper inappropriately pretends not to know who she is even after he has caught her.
"desert moor..." See in text (Stave Three)
A “moor” or “moorland” is an expanse of uncultivated land that is not suitable for agriculture. As moorlands are typically wet and humid, the adjective “desert” does not refer to a dry and sandy region, but rather land that is “deserted” or “empty.”
"cant..." See in text (Stave Three)
The verb “cant” in this context means “to speak hypocritically,” usually about something that is religious or political. Another meaning of the term “cant” is “to sing.” The term’s double meaning not only influences the tone of the ghost’s rebuke, but it also aligns with the continued metaphor of music. Scrooge metaphorically sings and literally speaks a “wicked cant” that attempts to “decide what men shall live” and contrasts with the idea of a carol, which should advocate peace and joy.
"hob..." See in text (Stave Four)
The noun “hob” refers to a projection, like a shelf, located on the back or the side of a fireplace on which something can be placed to keep it warm.
"frousy..." See in text (Stave Four)
The adjective “frousy”—more commonly spelled “frowsy”—means “unkempt or messy.”
"skater..." See in text (Stave Four)
The noun “skater” in Dickens’s time refers to ice skating, a leisurely Christmas activity beginning to increase in popularity around this time.
"pendulous excrescence..." See in text (Stave Four)
The adjective “pendulous” means “loosely hanging,” while the noun “excrescence” refers to a growth on the body, especially one that is unattractive. This man has a swinging growth on the end of his nose, making his physical appearance as ugly as his greedy moral character.
"snuff..." See in text (Stave Four)
The noun “snuff” refers to tobacco made of crushed leaves that is inhaled through the nose or placed on against the gums.
"waning..." See in text (Stave Four)
In this context, “waning” means “decreasing.” Scrooge’s time to change his fate seems to be dwindling rapidly, and his hurried speech reflects his anxiety about this. While Scrooge may be eager to learn his lesson, he wants to escape his fate above all else, which is ultimately, a selfish reason to change.
"offal..." See in text (Stave Four)
“Offal” is a term used to describe the entrails of a butchered animal. These were often only consumed by those of lower socio-economic status, as they were cheap and considered inedible by wealthier individuals. Dickens uses this detail to set the tone of this “low-browed” shop that the ghost has shown Scrooge.
"slipshod..." See in text (Stave Four)
To be “slipshod” is to be wearing shoes or slippers that are too large for one’s feet. The term comes from the fact that the ill-fitted shoes will “slip” up and down the heel of the foot. Dickens uses the term to indicate the wearer’s state of poverty, as it suggests that the shoes were found somewhere or donated, rather than purchased.
"intercedes..." See in text (Stave Four)
To "intercede" is to act to help someone by communicating on their behalf with a third party.
"off like a shot...." See in text (Stave Five)
The idiom “off like a shot” means to do something very quickly and without hesitation. It originated with weapons of war, such as firearms, which send their projectiles—sometimes known as “shots”—flying very quickly at the enemy.
"a strait-waistcoat...." See in text (Stave Five)
This is another term for a strait jacket. This type of garment is made of canvas material and used to bind and restrain violent prisoners and those with severe mental disabilities. That Bob considers one for a moment suggests that he finds Scrooge’s change in demeanor so shocking and drastic that he wonders whether or not Scrooge has lost his mind.
"Total Abstinence Principle..." See in text (Stave Five)
The term “intercourse” in this context means “communication,” and the term “abstinence” means to refrain from doing something. Thus, by “Total Abstinence Principle,” Dickens means that Scrooge no longer had any interactions with spirits after that one evening. This is Dickens way of letting the reader know that Scrooge’s transformation has been permanent and successful. Scrooge will treat people with compassion and generosity, so that he will never require another visit from the ghosts again.
"half a crown..." See in text (Stave Five)
"Half a crown," or a "half crown," was equivalent to two shillings and sixpence (six pennies in the United States.) This would be considered quite a generous sum for a quick errand during Dickens's time, and considering that Scrooge could easily fetch the turkey himself, it highlights his change in character. Scrooge is essentially giving this child a Christmas gift.
"Walk-ER..." See in text (Stave Five)
“Walk-er,” also known as “hookey walker,” was a term that was commonly used to express incredulity. The speaker would often use the word in much the same way that “nonsense” or “humbug” might have been used.