Analysis Pages

Vocabulary in Gulliver's Travels

Vocabulary Examples in Gulliver's Travels:

A Letter

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"inuendo..."   (A Letter)

An “innuendo” is an allusive remark or an insinuation. During Swift’s time, authors could be punished if their work engaged with beliefs that contradicted the ideals or objectives of those in power. So, writers would include innuendos pushing back against elitist beliefs rather than outright stating opinions that might yield backlash. The genre of satire is an example of this: it pokes fun at and critiques the political or social power but via characters or settings that merely resemble these powers, thereby evading penalty (though not always successfully.)

"interpolator..."   (A Letter)

To “interpolate” is to alter an existing text by inserting new words or tampering with the phrasing. An “interpolator” is a person who does the altering. In this context, the term has a negative connotation, as it suggests that the editor’s insertions have corrupted the original meaning of the text, rather than simply enhanced its clarification for readers.

"buff jerkin..."   (Part I - Chapter I)

A “buff jerkin” was an oiled leather jacket that soldiers during Gulliver’s time would wear for added protection. The jerkin would have protected Gulliver’s torso from the spears being hurled at him, especially if we take into account their small size in relation to his giant body.

"demesnes..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

A “demesne” is land that one legally owns, or private property. Typically, a demesne is exclusively for the use of the owner and not for the use of any citizens of the surrounding land. Gulliver makes it clear that the Prince is no exception to this rule; the Prince uses his land only for himself and rarely gives financial aid to his subjects, characterizing him as selfish and greedy.

"clemency..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

To have or grant “clemency” is to behave mercifully or to decrease the severity of a punishment. Gulliver could squash the small inhabitants for their crimes, but he chooses not to. This is seen as an act of clemency, though it should be noted that Gulliver never intended to “eat them alive”; he merely pretended to and considers frightening them as punishment enough.

"pressed by the necessities of Nature..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

The phrase "pressed by the necessities of Nature" politely refers to Gulliver's need to relieve himself as soon as possible.

"intestine disquiets..."   (Part I - Chapter IV)

By “intestine disquiets,” Gulliver means the persistent interior feelings of animosity that the two nations have for one another. This furthers the motif of excrement that Swift introduced in the second chapter by comparing international hostility to that of intestinal trouble or unease. This again reminds the reader of human bodily imperfections.

"circumspection..."   (Part I - Chapter IV)

“Circumspection” refers to the ability to take all circumstances and possible outcomes into account. Gulliver’s giant size means that he is a constant threat to the Lilliputians, even if he does not intend to be. However, he learns to be incredibly mindful and considerate of them, never exercising even half of the power that he could over them.

"Big-endians..."   (Part I - Chapter IV)

The Big-endians represent the Catholic minority in England; the Little-endians, the Protestant majority.

"junto..."   (Part I - Chapter V)

A “junto” is a group or committee joined for a common aim, typically one that is political in nature. The term can be used formally or informally, and when used informally, means something like “gang” or “clan.”

"viceroy..."   (Part I - Chapter V)

A “viceroy” is a government official who rules a nation or colony as the representative of a sovereign, a king, or a queen. Though viceroys acts on behalf of the sovereign and could often make political decisions, they had limitations and other officials to keep their power in check.

"exchequer bills..."   (Part I - Chapter VI)

In this context, an “exchequer” refers to the royal treasury of the Lilliputians. An “exchequer bill” in Britain was a bill of credit or promissory bill which included a certain amount of interest and was issued by a parliament official. The Lilliputians might have their own term to describe this kind of bill, but Gulliver is likely describing it with an equivalent in his own language.

"Divine Providence..."   (Part I - Chapter VI)

“Divine Providence” in religion and theology refers to the intervention of God in the lives of individuals and in the state of the world. People usually consider Providence to be benevolent, believing that God cares about the well-being of humans, and that any intervention reflects this affection. Additionally, some people use the term to describe the belief that God has a plan for humans and earth. Providence then means something close to “predestination” or “God’s plan.”

"ignominiou..."   (Part I - Chapter VI)

If a punishment is ignominious, then it is humiliating and shame-inducing. In Lilliput, the punishment for false accusation and fraud is this humiliating death, a concept that illustrates how highly the Lilliputians and their government value honesty and trust. Gulliver’s Travels thereby implies that the primary foundation of any sustainable and prosperous society is trust.

"cabal ..."   (Part I - Chapter VIII)

A “cabal” is a small group of people who are united in a secret plan or conspiracy together. The word is often associated specifically to refer to a group’s secret plots against a state. However in this case, the cabal is formed by Lilliputian authorities, who conspire to punish Gulliver.

" the lee side..."   (Part I - Chapter VIII)

“The lee side of the island” refers to the side of the island that is sheltered from the wind, rain, and other harsh weather conditions. This indicates that there is most likely a mountain on the island that provides the shelter for one side.

"pallisadoed..."   (Part II - Chapter II)

Alternate spelling of the term “palisade,” which is a fence of stakes that is typically created for defense. Gulliver is “pallisadoed” in as a spectacle so that he does not fall, but also potentially so that spectators cannot harm or steal the farmer’s business opportunity.

"custom..."   (Part II - Chapter II)

Here, the word "custom" refers customers or business—that is, enough people to make showing off Gulliver worthwhile.

"lusus naturœ ..."   (Part II - Chapter III)

The phrase lusus naturoe is Latin for "freak of nature," literally, an "unnatural being."

"wen ..."   (Part II - Chapter IV)

A “wen” is a lump or cyst that protrudes from the body. Here, Swift emphasizes the imperfections of the human body by focusing on the grotesque in a similar way to how the symbol of excrement functions in the novel.

"espalier..."   (Part II - Chapter V)

An “espalier” is a railing or trellis that fruit trees or shrubs are placed against. It is used to help train the plants to grow upright or flat.

"panegyric..."   (Part II - Chapter VI)

“Panegyric” means a speech of elaborate praise. Gulliver has delivered a panegyric of British society and omitted the uglier aspects in order to paint Britain in a better light. However, while Gulliver preaches that all information must be included for the sake of candor, he only follows this when it best suits him. Gulliver does not hesitate to shed light on the negative parts of other societies, but will omit details if it makes Britain (and himself) look better.

"perfidiousness..."   (Part II - Chapter VI)

“Perfidy” means deceitfulness or untrustworthiness. By using an outsider’s perspective (that of the Brobdingnagian king), Swift can better satirize the irrational, hierarchical, or unjust nature of British cultural and political norms, during his time.

"the King's levee..."   (Part II - Chapter VI)

A “levee” is a morning reception that is held by a person of distinction upon rising from bed. In Britain and Ireland, the term may also refer to an afternoon reception, in which only men attend. In this context, Gulliver seems to be referring to the former, as he mentions watching the king’s barber help him get ready for the day.

"The Queen's joiner..."   (Part II - Chapter VII)

A “joiner” is a person whose occupation is to join pieces of wood together to craft certain things. The Queen’s joiner would be one that was extremely skilled and talented in this work, with the ability to quickly craft whatever the queen requested.

"mercurial..."   (Part II - Chapter VII)

“Mercurial” means changeable or temperamental. Gulliver is implying that the Brobdingnagians are not able to see all sides of an issue. However, this is ironic because their government actually functions more smoothly due to the stability and practicality of their laws. Gulliver attempts to criticise the Brobdingnagian government, but in reality, the reader is only convinced more of its superiority to European government.

"pygmies..."   (Part II - Chapter VIII)

“Pygmy” is term used to describe a very small person, but the term is considered outdated or offensive. The people that Gulliver meets here are humans of his own size, but they appear small to Gulliver because he has been amongst “giants” for the past two years. Humans are now unusual to Gulliver, signalling how much one’s perspective is determined by one’s experiences.

"reprobate..."   (Part III - Chapter I)

A “reprobate” is a person who is depraved or unprincipled. In Calvinism, the term means that one is predestined for damnation. Gulliver is referring to the Dutchman as a “malicious reprobate” because he does not show mercy even though the Christian doctrine preaches mercy and forgiveness.

"sloop..."   (Part III - Chapter I)

A “sloop” is a sailboat with one mast, and a fore-and-aft rig. This means that the boat’s sail is parallel to the keel, rather than perpendicular to it.

"zenith..."   (Part III - Chapter II)

“Zenith” refers to the highest point in the sky directly above the viewer. Since the people on the floating island have one eye looking “inward” and one eye on Zenith, their eyes satirize scientific advancements like the microscope and the telescope. These people are always focused on the skies above or experiments, rather than on one another or what is in front of them.

"lodestone ..."   (Part III - Chapter III)

A “lodestone,” also spelled “loadstone,” is a piece of magnetite. Gulliver explains that Laputa’s flotation depends on this enormous lodestone, and that the monarch can control the weather by manipulating the magnet.

"plate of adamant..."   (Part III - Chapter III)

“Adamant” is a type of mineral or stone that is extremely durable. In Middle English, it was sometimes used rhetorically to describe surfaces, like diamond, that were previously thought to be impenetrable.

"purulent ..."   (Part III - Chapter VI)

“Purulent” means resembling, containing, or consisting of pus. Swift emphasizes the imperfections of humans again, following the symbol of excrement.

"chimeras ..."   (Part III - Chapter VI)

In Greek mythology, a “chimera” was a fire-breathing monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. However when used abstractly, as it is here, it refers broadly to an illusion or a wild fabrication of the mind.

"obeisances..."   (Part III - Chapter VII)

An “obeisance” is a movement of the body to indicate acknowledgement of another’s superiority. An example of an obeisance is when one bows in front of a king or queen.

"custom-house officer..."   (Part III - Chapter IX)

A “custom-house” is a building at a port of entry or border in which customs duties are paid and travellers submit documents upon entering or leaving the country. A custom-house officer is a person who is employed to collect customs duties and prevent the entrance of illegal goods.

"jackdaw..."   (Part IV - Chapter VIII)

A “jackdaw” is a small, common grey or black crow. The jackdaw is known to be easily tamed and taught to imitate sounds. Gulliver compares the yahoos behavior to that of animals that imitate people.

"copse ..."   (Part IV - Chapter X)

A “copse” is a thicket of small trees or shrubs that are periodically cut back so that they start to grow in thicker. The trimmings are usually used to make necessities, in this case, to build Gulliver’s canoe.

"splenetics..."   (Part IV - Chapter X)

A “splenetic” is someone who is spiteful or easily angered. As the Houyhnhnms are not easily tempered, and Gulliver avoids the yahoos at all costs, he is grateful for being relatively free of splenetics.

"springes made of Yahoos’ hairs..."   (Part IV - Chapter X)

A “springe” is a snare that is used for catching small game. Notice that Gulliver uses yahoo hair to make the springes. Recall also, that the Houyhnhnm leader was appalled that Gulliver had once used animal hides to make useful items for himself. Swift emphasizes how much Gulliver’s perspective has shifted; he has now come fully to view the yahoos as animals.

"ticking..."   (Part IV - Chapter X)

In this context, “ticking” is a strong cotton or linen fabric that is used as a casing for pillows, mattresses, etc. Gulliver makes the ticking out of hemp, which is a thick and coarse natural fiber made from the cannabis plant.

"limpets..."   (Part IV - Chapter XI)

A “limpet” is a small marine mollusk that can be found clinging tightly to rocks. Here, Gulliver is speaking literally of eating limpets for a meal, but the term is also often used to refer to a person who clings tightly to someone or something.

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