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Vocabulary in The Outcasts of Poker Flat

Vocabulary Examples in The Outcasts of Poker Flat:

The Outcasts of Poker Flat

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"sententiously..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

If one is speaking “sententiously” they are expressing themselves in a feigned, energetic manner using aphorisms. Its negative connotation suggests that the speaker is being pompous and preachy. Mr. Oakhurst uses a poker metaphor to understand and explain the concept of luck because poker helps him make sense of a complex world. His words are “sententious” because he tersely assumes a moralistic authority on the matter—he feels that he knows best out of all his cohorts about fate, luck, and human behavior because he has a metaphor to explain these things.

"sotto voce..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

“Sotto voce” is an Italian phrase that means to speak in a lowered voice. While someone might utter something in sotto voce so that others will not overhear, it is also often used as a rhetorical strategy for dramatic effect. In this case, Mr. Oakhurst may be lowering his voice for either reason, though we are not given many clues that suggest his desire to add dramatic effect.

"sylvan..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

The adjective “sylvan” means being surrounded by woods or inhabiting a wooded area. The word often has a positive connotation, indicating that there is a pleasantness to the sight of the “sylvan group,” especially in combination with the “glancing firelight” and “tethered animals.” The description here pulls the reader into a warm and comforting moment of relaxation along with the characters.

"Temperance House..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

The term “temperance” means abstinence from drinking alcohol. A “temperance house,” also known as a “temperance tavern,” was a type of bar that did not serve alcohol or asked customers to sign an oath stating that they would drink in moderation or abstain completely while inside. Piney Woods used to work in a temperance house—an occupation traditionally held in higher “moral” esteem than some of the occupations of her present company.

"anathema..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

An “anathema” is a person or thing that is hated or loathed. While the narrator states that Uncle Billy was the one that “included the whole party in one sweeping anathema,” Mother Shipton also eyes Mr. Oakhurst with “malevolence.” Note that Mr. Oakhurst’s kind actions failed to “draw the party into any closer sympathy.” This group of individuals are very divided, either hateful or fearful of one another despite being victims of the same unfortunate circumstance.

"Parthian volley of expletives..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

“Parthian volley” refers to an ancient region called Parthia in modern-day northeast Iran. They developed a military strategy known as the “Parthian Shot,” in which an archer on horseback shoots arrows towards their enemies while retreating away from them. The expression a “Parthian volley” used here implies that Uncle Billy is cursing and threatening while in retreat. He is shooting “expletives” in vain, recognizing that he cannot change the committee’s decision.

"sluice-robber..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

In this context, a “sluice” is a slanted channel used to filter gold out from dirt or sand. Customarily, people would claim a certain area during their search for gold and leave their gold in the sluice for short intervals of time if needed. A “sluice-robber” is someone who would then go around stealing the gold from unattended sluices.

"expatriated..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

While “expatriate” is most-often used today to describe a person who chooses to reside in a country other than that of their citizenship, to have been “expatriated” in this context means that one has been exiled or banished from the town of which one was residing.

"local prejudice..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

“The Outcasts of Poker Flat” has been associated with “regional-realism,” a literary movement popular in American literature during the time of the story’s publication. Regional-realism concerns itself with the local cultural and social customs of a particular area: in this case, the California Gold Rush region. What Harte highlights about the “Wild West” is the prejudice that the “locals” have towards “outsiders,” referring to them as strangers. The townspeople use Mr. Oakhurst status as an immigrant from another town as another means to justify his exile.

"impropriety was professional..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

“Impropriety” in this context means “indecency” or “a failure to show modesty.” We can infer that this statement suggests that these women were prostitutes. The narrator calls attention to the fact that the town committee uses this as vindication for their “banishment” from the town.

"improper persons..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

The word “improper” is used here to describe those that the “secret committee” deem “immoral” in some way. Note that the term “improper” does not necessarily describe someone who has committed crimes or offenses—but rather, someone that is “unfit” for this town. Thus, it is a value-judgement and not based upon law. The “change in moral atmosphere” has provoked this committee to exile citizens, but we are led to question how they decide and whether or not they should have the authority to do so.

"Sabbath lull..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

“Sabbath,” in this context, is used to refer to “Sunday,” which Christians observe as a holy day for attending church. A “Sabbath lull” then, describes the quiet that pervades a town on a Sunday whilst everyone is at church. Notice that the narrator tells us that Poker Flat is actually “a settlement unused to Sabbath influences,” implying that it is normally a lively town and that many of its inhabitants did not used to attend church on Sundays.

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