Vocabulary in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Vocabulary Examples in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

Chapter One 8

"gable..."   (Chapter One)

The noun “gable” refers to the triangular side of a building.

"Sawbones..."   (Chapter One)

A “sawbones” is a colloquial term for surgeon, derived from the surgical practice of quite literally sawing the bones of amputation patients. The word has origins likely tracing back to 19th-century England. It is an example of a kenning—a compound phrase with a metaphorical meaning.

"Juggernaut...."   (Chapter One)

The word “juggernaut” originates from the Hindu god “Jaggannath.” The temple of Jaggannath stands in Puri, a city in the Indian state of Odisha. Each year, during the festival for Jaggannath, a enormous decorated cart is rolled through the city to the temple, crushing worshippers beneath its wheels along the way. In the 17th century, English travellers began witnessing and reporting back about the ritual. Soon the anglicized word “Juggernaut” came to indicate any wheeled lorry or commuter cart, the likes of which were common in London. As a verb, “juggernaut” refers to the action of crushing people with great force.

"catholicity..."   (Chapter One)

The word “catholicity” refers not specifically to the Catholic church but to a quality of openness, an all-embracing attitude. It derives from the Latin catholicus, itself from the Greek kathólou, meaning “the whole.” Catholicism—named for this stance of universality and wholeness—emerges from the same roots.

"to mortify..."   (Chapter One)

The verb “to mortify” literally means “to put to death.” In this context, Utterson drinks on occasion in order to “mortify” his appetite for alcohol. Such language illustrates Utterson’s Victorian character. Appetites are not to be indulged and enjoyed, but rather mortified from time to time.

"it seemed..."   (Chapter One)

"It seemed" is another way to introduce doubt into the reader's mind because it relies on perception rather than a statement of fact.

"what is called quiet..."   (Chapter One)

The addition of "what is called" offers some doubt to the adjective "quiet." Now we're not so sure if this setting really is quiet or if there is something else going on behind the scene. It also brings to mind the connotations of the word "quiet"—peaceful, normal, nothing out of the ordinary. This phrasing makes me think that this street only appears to be quiet, but that something unusual may be happening.

"eminently human..."   (Chapter One)

Strange choice of words here, as if he is otherwise unhuman.

"some Jack-in-the-box of an old iniquity..."   (Chapter Two)

In this colorful phrase, Utterson describes the way Dr. Jekyll is haunted by his past as a jack-in-the-box toy, popping up to surprise him with the memory of a prior “iniquity,” or misdeed.

"pede claudo..."   (Chapter Two)

The phrase “pede claudo” is a Latin phrase usually used in legal settings. It is a shortening of “pede poena claudo,” which can be translated as “punishment comes limping.” Again, Utterson is expressing his hunch that Dr. Jekyll is being slowly punished for his past actions.

"but in the law of God there is no statute of limitations...."   (Chapter Two)

In British common law, the statute of limitations marks a period of time following a crime or disputed event during which the legal process must begin. Speaking in reference to Dr. Jekyll’s ill state as well as his wild past, Utterson concludes that Jekyll must be paying the price for some youthful crime. The crime and price are not legal in nature but rather psychological.

"Something troglodytic, shall we say?..."   (Chapter Two)

“Troglodytic” literally pertains to troglodytes, or cave-dwelling people. Connotatively, the word suggests someone who is asocial, less-than-human, or repellant. This passage offers a brief, initial character sketch of Mr. Hyde.

"a propos..."   (Chapter Two)

A propos” is a Latin phrase meaning to the purpose or fitly. As a lawyer, Mr. Utterson is given to using Latin and legal language in his speech, a token of his class and learning.

"superstitious prevision..."   (Chapter Two)

“Prevision” most nearly means “foresight.” As Utterson hears a set of footsteps which stir his intuition, it is clear that his “superstitious prevision” works more as a premonition or hunch. He knows he is onto something.

"Such unscientific balderdash..."   (Chapter Two)

Referring to Dr. Jekyll’s work as “balderdash,” Dr. Lanyon uses the word in two ways. “Balderdash”—a word with unknown origins—can refer to both nonsensical speech and ideas as well as jumbled concoctions of liquids or liquors. Dr. Jekyll’s research as a chemist can thus be seen as “balderdash” in both senses.

"definite presentment of a fiend...."   (Chapter Two)

In legal parlance, Utterson’s specialty, “presentment” is used to describe the formal setting forth of a case, argument, or document. Here, the word seems to mean something closer to presentation, as in image. “Presentment” in this case might also be close to “presentiment,” which fittingly refers to a feeling of foreboding and imminent evil.

"that hide-bound pedant, Lanyon..."   (Chapter Three)

Dr. Jekyll refers to Dr. Lanyon as a “hide-bound pedant” in response to Lanyon’s opinion that his own scientific work is “balderdash.” “Hide-bound” refers to someone with an overly conservative perspective, and comes from the more literal image of emaciated, skin-and-bone cattle whose flesh lacks flexibility. A “pedant” is someone with a detail-oriented, by-the-book, academic manner.

"disinterred..."   (Chapter Four)

To “disinter” is to unearth an object which had been buried. In this context, the word carries several meanings. On the surface, the inspector pulls the checkbook out of the ashes of the fire. On a deeper level, the checkbook represents a secret, a buried, concealed clue drawn up into awareness. Deeper still, the word evokes the interment—or burial—of Sir Danvers Carew, the man whose murder sparked the investigation.

"blackguardly surroundings..."   (Chapter Four)

“Blackguardly surroundings” are those pertaining to or associated with blackguards—villainous, contemptible men. In other words, Soho is a worthless, vile place, at least by Utterson’s estimation.

"a trifle hurt..."   (Chapter Four)

As an adverb, “trifle” means “a little bit” or “to a small degree.”

"trifling..."   (Chapter Four)

To “trifle” is to fool around and behave frivolously. In this context, Mr. Hyde’s frivolous activity serves as a contrast to his subsequent outburst of violence. This contrast shows Mr. Hyde to be unpredictable and irrational.

"cupola..."   (Chapter Five)

A “cupola” is a small dome. The word derives from the Latin cupula, meaning “little cask.”

"red baize..."   (Chapter Five)

“Baize” is a kind of textile, a rough woollen material used for clothing and furniture. The word itself comes from the Latin badius, meaning “chestnut-colored,” a shade of reddish brown.

"glimmered like carbuncles..."   (Chapter Five)

A “carbuncle” is a variety of red gem. In some instances, the word refers to a specific gem; in others, any gem used for embellishment; in others, a mythical gem touted for its brilliant gleam. It is this final connotation on which Stevenson draws in his description of the lamplight glimmering through the heavy London fog. The simile of the carbuncle, with its intimations of myth and its evocations of a scarlet gleam, charges the scene with a larger-than-life atmosphere.

"cheval glass..."   (Chapter Five)

A “cheval glass” is a rotatable, full-length mirror. The events in subsequent chapters may reveal why Dr. Jekyll would need such a device.

"It is one thing to mortify curiosity..."   (Chapter Six)

This phrase subtly plays on multiple meanings and connotations of mortify. Directly speaking, Utterson is mortifying his curiosity—that is to say, suppressing his desire. To mortify is also to waste away and lose vitality, a process which Henry Jekyll is undergoing at this stage of the story. Mortification also refers to death itself, the phenomenon which sparked Utterson’s curiosity in the first place.

"If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also. I could not think that this earth contained a place for sufferings and terrors so unmanning;..."   (Chapter Six)

In this letter, Henry Jekyll expresses his desperate struggle with one of the central themes of the story: punishment. The nature of the punishment is psychological, for Jekyll is not punished by the law but rather by his own feelings of remorse and guilt. Jekyll describes a feeling of being “unmann[ed],” a word relevant on multiple levels. To be unmanned is to be stripped of one’s defenses as well as to be reduced of one’s humanity and made less-than-human.

"out of the ken of the police..."   (Chapter Six)

The word “ken” comes from a Germanic root which means to know and to see. In this case, the “ken of the police” refers to the police’s range of vision.

"with an infinite sadness of mien,..."   (Chapter Seven)

Mien, pronounced “mean” and from the same root as demeanor, describes a person’s expression, mood, and emotional bearing. After coming out of his seclusion, Henry Jekyll has retreated again into a state of despair and “infinite sadness,” the source of which is as yet unclear.

"self-destroyer..."   (Chapter Eight)

A “self-destroyer” refers to someone who commits suicide. According to the laws of the Catholic and Anglican churches, suicide was seen a crime against God, and thus was considered taboo in Victorian England.

"the strong smell of kernels that hung upon the air,..."   (Chapter Eight)

The “strong smell of kernels” can be attributed to the fruit or nut kernels from which Mr. Hyde had extracted cyanide, a poisonous chemical often used for suicide.

"malefactor..."   (Chapter Eight)

Utterson refers to the figure in the room—presumed to be Mr. Hyde—as a “malefactor,” which is to say a criminal or wrongdoer. “Malefactor” is a significant word here in that, near the beginning of the story, Hyde is cited as Henry Jekyll’s “benefactor,” the precise antonym. Hyde’s transition from benefactor to malefactor represents the increasingly problematic relationship between Jekyll and Hyde.

"let us make a clean breast...."   (Chapter Eight)

The expression “to make a clean breast,” which dates back to as early as the 18th century, means to confess fully. The breast refers to the location of the heart, whose secrets are revealed in such an act. Utterson suspects that he and Poole share a hypothesis about the identity of the figure within the room.

"a flying wrack of the most diaphanous and lawny texture..."   (Chapter Eight)

In this scene-setting passage, we see a small storm of “wrack”—waste and debris—whose texture is “diaphanous and lawny”—that is, transparent and soft, linen-like.

"a crushing anticipation of calamity..."   (Chapter Eight)

Anticipating the impending confrontation with Jekyll, Utterson expects “calamity,” another word for disaster. That the anticipation is “crushing” both suggests a fear of personal harm and calls to mind the episode near the beginning of the story in which Mr. Hyde crushed a girl in the street. As the plot approaches its climax, the tone becomes increasingly suspenseful.

"and your sight shall be blasted by a prodigy to stagger the unbelief of Satan.”..."   (Chapter Nine)

Mr. Hyde offers Dr. Lanyon the choice to witness the drinking of the mixture or not. He gives the spectacle a sense of enormous scale, promising “new avenues to fame and power.” He goes on to cast it in religious language, referring to it as a “prodigy”—an extraordinary, inexplicable occurrence—that would shake even the most skeptical. Hyde’s heightened tone underscores the climactic nature of the moment.

"moral turpitude..."   (Chapter Nine)

“Moral turpitude” refers to wickedness and vile behaviour. Lanyon does not elucidate precisely why he considers Jekyll’s actions turpid. It seems to be the case, rather, that Lanyon’s judgment arises from his emotional reaction, his “horror” when reflecting on all that has happened.

"And now, you who have so long been bound to the most narrow and material views..."   (Chapter Nine)

Mr. Hyde accuses Dr. Lanyon of being a materialist in his scientific pursuits. “Material views” include all philosophies which reduce reality down to physical existence. Mr. Hyde offers, in contrast, “the virtue of transcendental medicine,” which is not an actual field per se. Hyde, however, seems to be espousing a science that incorporates a spiritual or divine dimension.

"red tincture..."   (Chapter Nine)

“Tincture” refers to a pigment or dye, and comes from the Latin tingere, meaning “to dye.”

"a few minims..."   (Chapter Nine)

“Minim” refers to the smallest possible portion of a substance, a tiny drop.

"misbegotten in the very essence..."   (Chapter Nine)

To be “misbegotten” is to be born out of wedlock, a bastard. Dr. Lanyon is correct in his assumption that Mr. Hyde is misbegotten, though he does not yet understand how it is that he is misbegotten.

"portico..."   (Chapter Nine)

A “portico” is a covered walkway held up by columns.

"farrago..."   (Chapter Nine)

The word “farrago” refers to a hodgepodge, a jumbled mixture. Dr. Lanyon uses the word to describe the letter Dr. Jekyll has written to him which, in its desperation and lack of detail, strike the doctor as grounds for insanity.

"accouterment..."   (Chapter Nine)

The noun “accouterment” refers to additional equipment or items of clothing needed to complete a particular activity. Though Lanyon doesn’t know why the stranger is dressed so oddly, he suspects it must be for some reason.

"to turn on some nobler hinge than the principle of hatred..."   (Chapter Nine)

The phrase “to turn on a hinge” suggests that the cause of Lanyon’s unease in Hyde’s presence is centered around something—though he initially believes it to simply be unfounded dislike, he later thinks his unease comes from a more profound source, perhaps from what Hyde represents.

"neighborhood..."   (Chapter Nine)

The noun “neighborhood” in this context refers to the area immediately surrounding a person. By virtue of his mere presence, Hyde inspires negative reactions in the environment around him.

"his remarkable combination of great muscular activity and great apparent debility of constitution..."   (Chapter Nine)

The noun “debility” is another word for weakness, and “constitution” refers to a person’s physical health or appearance. Lanyon notes the discrepancy between the man’s constantly shifting facial expressions and how ill he appears—a comments on the man’s dual, and apparently contradictory, nature.

"flighty colleague..."   (Chapter Nine)

The adjective “flighty” means impulsive and irresponsible. With the mundane discovery of Jekyll’s various experimental ingredients—none of which seem out of the ordinary— Lanyon is becoming increasingly convinced that Jekyll is insane and unable to think rationally.

"glazed press..."   (Chapter Nine)

The noun “press” in this context refers to a dresser or set of drawers where clothes are kept, whereas the adjective “glazed” refers to the dresser’s glass doors.

"bravoes..."   (Chapter Ten)

The noun “bravo” in this context refers to a hired assassin or criminal.

"the mistlike transience, of this seemingly so solid body in which we walk attired. Certain agents I found to have the power to shake and to pluck back that fleshy vestment, even as a wind might toss the curtains of a pavilion...."   (Chapter Ten)

The noun “transience” means the state of lasting for only a short time. “Vestment” refers to an item of clothing, often ceremonial in nature. Notice the simile that Jekyll chooses to refer to his transformations: he is able to change his body with the ease of how the wind moves curtains. It’s also important to note that the simile also carries connotations of chance, because one never knows when the wind will rustle the curtains, suggesting Jekyll’s later uncontrolled changes into Hyde.

"I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous, and independent denizens...."   (Chapter Ten)

The noun “polity” refers to an organized government or state. “Multifarious” means many or varied, “incongruous” means lacking in harmony or out of place, and the noun “denizens” refers to inhabitants of a particular place. Jekyll’s worldview is consistent with his character: he believes that humanity is defined by its many parts present in one person, all of whom are different personalities instead of uniform as one. Similarly to the autonomy of Jekyll’s alternate personality, Hyde, he believes that everyone has sides of themselves that are independent rather than under complete rational control.

"blazoned..."   (Chapter Ten)

The verb “blazon” means to display prominently. Although others would have indulged their vices or put less consideration into what others thought, Jekyll does not, instead choosing to hide and repress his desires to advance his social standing.

"committed to a profound duplicity of life...."   (Chapter Ten)

The word choice here is telling: the noun “duplicity” means doubleness or deception, which recalls Hyde and Jekyll’s connection. It also speaks to both the Victorian and moral notion of duality. While Victorians valued restraint in public, they were more emotional in private. Jekyll may be the model Victorian citizen—charitable, respectable, and controlled—but he is capable of just the opposite as well.