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Vocabulary in The Pit and the Pendulum

Vocabulary Examples in The Pit and the Pendulum:

The Pit and the Pendulum

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"lozenge..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

In this context, the word “lozenge” refers to a diamond shape of four equal sides with two acute and two obtuse angles. The square dungeon begins to shapeshift, growing in length and shrinking in width, thus compressing and crushing the narrator.

"ague..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “ague” refers to a fever that is marked by symptoms such as chills and sweating. As the heat from the bottom of the pit rises, the narrator erupts into sudden violent attacks, or paroxysms.

"spectral and fiendish..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

As the pit begins to glow from the increasing temperature in the pit, the characters on the wall take on a new, terrifying appearance. The adjective “spectral” describes something as shadowy and ghost-like; “fiendish,” as wicked and malevolent. The faces on the walls of the pit torment the narrator, who sees their “demon eyes” glaring at him “in a thousand directions.”

"In their voracity the vermin frequently fastened their sharp fangs in my fingers...."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The noun “voracity” refers to the state of being ravenous. This word, alongside the repeated alliteration of the v and f sounds in this phrase, contribute to the persistent and indefatigable nature of the rats as they lunge at the narrator’s bindings and tear them apart.

"moiety..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “moiety” refers to one of two parts from an original. The narrator returns to the idea of a “half formed” idea and states that one portion of this idea has returned to taunt him. Eventually, his whole escape plan takes form in his brain as he attempts to carry it out.

"sufficient to sunder..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

Following the auditory imagery of “hissing,” Poe employs repetitive alliteration of the s consonant to mimic the sound of the pendulum as it draws closer to the narrator. The verb “to sunder” means to separate violently and intimates the potential trajectory of the pendulum. The narrator foresees the pendulum’s splitting the dungeon in two and violently cleaving his robe.

"hissing vigor..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The verb “hissing” means to make a sharp, sibilant sound, and connotes the sound a snake or serpent might make; the noun “vigor” refers to an intense action. This combination of words conjures auditory imagery that characterizes the pendulum as a serpent careening powerfully towards the narrator.

"scimitar..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The narrator compares the “sharp steel” of the pendulum edge to the curved, concave edge of the “scimitar,” a cavalry sword historically used by Arabs and Turks. Poe’s sword descriptions reference Toledo, Spain, which has been one of the major epicenters for steel weaponry and sword-making since about 500 BCE.

"acrid breath..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The adjective “acrid” refers to an unpleasant or pungent taste or odor. As the pendulum descends closer and closer to the narrator’s body, the narrator personifies the pendulum as a creature that “fans” him with “its acrid breath,” invoking olfactory imagery to demonstrate its diabolical qualities.

"Ultima Thule..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

In ancient Greek and Roman cartography and literature, the phrase “Ultima Thule” referred to a northernmost location. This was an imaginative extension of “Thule,” a mysterious island north of England. Later, in medieval literature, the phrase came to mean a distant location beyond the known world. The pit, according to the narrator, is a form of punishment beyond the known world; he even explicitly outlines the way in which the pit is a symbol for hell: “the pit, typical of hell.”

"scythe..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

A “scythe” is a farming tool with a curved blade used to mow grass and cut grain with sweeping strokes. The narrator describes how the figure of Time does not carry a scythe; instead he holds a pendulum, which in this case bears an uncanny likeness to a guillotine.

"surcingle..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “surcingle” describes a girth used to keep a bag or saddle in place on a horse or other animal’s back. By using this sort of strap to secure the narrator onto a piece of wood, Poe hints at the inhumane treatment of heretics during the Inquisition.

"charnel..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

A “charnel,” or “charnel house” is a building in which dead bodies and bones are placed. Here, the narrator metaphorically likens his surroundings, including the “metallic enclosure” of the pit, to the monastic charnel houses which emtomb the dead. To the narrator, the pit is akin to his final resting place.

"sulphurous lustre..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

Through the dual definitions of the word “sulphurous,” Poe employs a double entendre. “Sulphurous” can mean both resembling burning sulfur as well as relating to the fire of hell. Describing the “lustre,” or light created by the reflection off the chasm, as sulphurous intimates the hellish nature of the pit.

"chasm ..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “chasm” refers to a cleft or fissure in a surface of terrain, mountain, or rock. More recently, it has come to mean a wide crack in any structure, natural or manmade. Here, the narrator drops a stone into the abyss to measure the distance to the bottom of the chasm.

"prostrate..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “prostrate” has two definitions: first, it can refer to the act of lying submissively with one’s face on the ground; second, it can refer to the state of being completely overcome. The narrator, so weak and infirm, falls to the ground, physically as well as emotionally prostrate.

"insuperable..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “insuperable” means incapable of being overcome or solved. Here, the narrator tries to measure the circumference of the vault, a seemingly simple task. He takes his clothes and wraps them along the wall to measure the dimensions of the space. However, because he is so feeble, he describes this task as “insuperable,” or difficult to overcome.

"subterranean..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “subterranean” refers to something that lies beneath the surface of the earth. However, it also conjures a more negative subtext because it can refer to something working in secret or something that is, in a metaphorical sense, characteristic of the underworld. The narrator describes the pit in which he is confined as a “subterranean world of darkness,” a phrase which describes not only its location below the surface of the earth, but also its hellish or infernal connotations.

"convulsively..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The adverb “convulsively” means resembling a convulsion or a seizure-like fit of involuntary contractions. As the narrator tries to stand up, his body is thrown into violent and spasmodic convulsions, an image which highlights his physical incapacitation.

"autos-da-fe..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The term “autos-da-fe,” which stems from the Portuguese auto da fé or “act of faith,” refers to a heretic’s judgement ceremony during the Spanish Inquisition. The ceremony was followed immediately by an execution, usually a burning. The first autos-da-fe was held in Seville in 1481, when six people were burned alive. Due to the threat of terror by the tribunals, by 1492 the Inquisition had taken hold of much of the Kingdom of Castile, including the capital city of Toledo, where the narrator is located.

"of the sentence..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “swoon” means to lose consciousness. Through alliteration of the s sound in this sentence, the narrator creates rhythmic language that bookends his final descent into the pit and his loss of all consciousness. Notice throughout the story how Poe will create rhythms by repeating words that begin with the same sound to create emphasis and finality.

"gossamer..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “gossamer” refers to a delicate film of cobwebs that float in the air. Here, the narrator describes the process of awakening as breaking “the gossamer web of some dream.” This image suggests that he enjoys slumber because his dreams are lighthearted and delicate. However, this sense of reverie dissipates as soon as the harshness of reality sets in. Once the narrator awakes, he must face reality, or the “gulf,” as he later describes in the passage.

"supervened..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

Here, the narrator notes how the candles vanish and how the “blackness of darkness supervened.” To highlight the utter darkness of the scene, the narrator redundantly pairs the words blackness and darkness together. Both words suggest complete and pervasive nothingness, and when combined compound this overall sense. The word “supervened” means to result as an additional development, suggesting that as the candles extinguish, the blackness enters and envelops the scene.

"meaningless spectres..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “spectre” describes a disembodied spirit or ghost. Here, the candles, once emblems of hope, now transform into “meaningless spectres.” The sudden change in appearance of the candles from angels to phantoms foreshadows the narrator’s vanishing sense of hope.

"sable draperies..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The adjective “sable” may refer to two definitions: the color black or the black clothes worn during the mourning process. These definitions conjure images of death and mourning. Here, the narrator momentarily glimpses his surroundings and notices the draperies around him, which are as dark as funerary clothing.

"writhe..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The verb “to writhe” refers to the action of twisting and distorting oneself out of pain. As the judges mandate the narrator’s torture, he notices that their grotesque lips “writhe with a deadly locution.” The verb conjures an image of convolution and twisting. As they utter his name, the lips twist and furl into terrifying contortions, intimating the punishments their words foretell.

"accentuation ..."   (The Pit and the Pendulum)

The word “accentuation” describes an emphasized sound. As the narrator loses most of his senses—his ability to see, smell, taste, or touch—he retains his capability to hear. The first imagery readers encounter is the auditory imagery of the inquisitorial notice, which the narrator describes as the “dread sentence of death.” The sounds meld together throughout the following lines as the narrator moves in and out of consciousness and the sounds coalesce into “one dreamy indeterminate hum.”

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