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Vocabulary in The Devil and Tom Walker

Vocabulary Examples in The Devil and Tom Walker:

Text of the Story

🔒 21

"and brought upon the parish..."   (Text of the Story)

In the Christian Church, the "parish" refers to a small administrative district with its own church and run by a local pastor. The land jobber means that because he will have lost all of his money to Tom, his family will have to rely on the charity of the church for support.

"Zionward..."   (Text of the Story)

"Zion" has different meanings in the Jewish and Christian faiths. In this context, "zionword" refers to the spiritual journey these "quiet Christians" are making to try and access the heavenly kingdom of God in the afterlife.

"out of parsimony..."   (Text of the Story)

"Parsimony" means an extreme unwillingness to part with one's money. Tom may have a higher quality of life than he did prior to becoming a usurer, but he remains a greedy miser who doesn't even use the wealth he's acquired.

"Eldorados..."   (Text of the Story)

"El Dorado" is the name of a fictitious country or city in the Americas rumored to be overflowing with gold. The land-jobbers would likely have been either eagerly searching for such a place or selling false information on its whereabouts in order to make money off of other speculators' gullibility.

"the old black-legs..."   (Text of the Story)

A "black-leg" refers to a swindler, a gambler, or someone who tries to deceive someone of their possessions. Since the devil has a reputation for making deals for people's souls, this choice of words is apt.

"Old Scratch..."   (Text of the Story)

This American name for the devil derives from old Norse/Germanic roots of the words skratte and skraz, both of which either refer to a "wood-demon", "satyr", or a type of "goblin." Notice the relationship between the "wood-demon" from the origin of the name and the woodcutting profession Irving gives the devil in this story.

"squaws..."   (Text of the Story)

A "squaw" refers to an American Indian women or wife. Until the mid 20th century, this word, derived from an Algonquian language, was used neutrally by anthropologists and other social scientists in research contexts. While Irving uses the word in this neutral sense, it is worth noting that after the Cultural Revolution and the changes in the political climate in the US in the later 20th century, the word can no longer be used inoffensively.

"bosom..."   (Text of the Story)

While this word typically refers to a woman's breasts or chest, "bosom" can also be used in a figurative sense to refer to the heart of a place. In this context, Tom finds himself standing on a peninsula that goes deep into the center of the swamp.

"hemlocks..."   (Text of the Story)

While in Europe the hemlock plant is highly poisonous with fern-like leaves, in North America the hemlock fir or spruce is a large coniferous tree with dark green foliage. The hemlock fir shares the same name with the hemlock plant because it supposedly smells similar to the plant when its foliage is crushed up.

"usurer..."   (Text of the Story)

A "usurer" is another word for a money-lender; however, this word usually means this person charges excessively high rates of interest. That the devil is interested in usurers represents the unfavorable view many people have of those who practiced this profession.

"and shook many tall sinners down upon their knees..."   (Text of the Story)

This line implies that the earthquake served as a reminder for many sinners of how temporary and unstable physical life is. That the sinners were shaken down to their knees suggests that many of them realized that their spiritual lives needed attending to and that the afterlife and the value of their souls were more valuable than worldy things.

"rejoicing, if a bachelor, in his celibacy...."   (Text of the Story)

In this context, "celibacy" refers to the state of not being married. Irving appears to be satirizing marriage in this paragraph by showing how Tom and his wife have such a terrible marriage that those who walk by are thankful that they themselves are not married.

"green spectacles..."   (Text of the Story)

Irving's choice of "green" here is deliberate. The color green often has associations with envy, money, and avarice, or greed. The fact that Tom literally looks at the world through green lenses reinforces Tom's moral corruption and lust for wealth.

"land-jobbers..."   (Text of the Story)

A "land-jobber" is a real-estate investor or speculator; someone who makes his or her living by buying and selling land on speculation.

"rhino..."   (Text of the Story)

"Rhino" in this context is British slang for money, in much the same way that Americans use the word "buck."

""A great man had fallen in Israel."..."   (Text of the Story)

This line refers to 2 Samuel 3:38 in the Bible, where King David mourns the death of Abner. It is used to inform the public that a notable and good person had died.

"Quakers and Anabaptists..."   (Text of the Story)

The Quakers and Anabaptists are Christian denominations which denounced liquor and promoted simple lives. The Amish are cited as a modern example of Anabaptists. The point here is that the devil enjoys persecuting the people who seem least likely to have committed a crime.

"Evil Spirit..."   (Text of the Story)

In the context of this story, told from a Christian perspective, the "Evil Spirit" is Satan. It was common for colonists to assume that the Native American religions, being non-Christian, must have been worshipping the devil instead.

"termagant..."   (Text of the Story)

"Termagant" (with a capital T) refers to a character from in medieval plays that represented an angry, overbearing god that Muslims supposedly worshipped. Eventually the word came to mean a harsh, overbearing, or violent-tempered person, and it takes the adjective form with a lowercase t.

"pudding-stone..."   (Text of the Story)

A puddingstone is a type of composite stone, with thicker pebble-sized stones embedded in a fine, sand or mud-grained stone of a different color, like raisins in pudding. The puddingstone around Boston is called Roxbury, and it is around 500 million years old.

"savin-trees..."   (Text of the Story)

Juniperus sabina (savin) is a small, busy juniper tree, similar to pines but shorter, bushier and less "stately." Junipers don't have any historical association with sterility; the author may simply be referring to their appearance.

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