Analysis Pages

Vocabulary in A Tale of Two Cities

Vocabulary Examples in A Tale of Two Cities:

Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter I

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"pincers..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter I)

The word "pincer" refers to a tool used to remove nails. The tool is made of two pieces of metal jaws that can grip and pull.

"requisition..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter I)

The word "requisition" refers to the act of being called to perform a duty.

"the two Testaments..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter II)

The two Testaments are the Old Testament and the New Testament from the Christian Bible. So, Dickens is simply referring to the entire Bible. The coachman is so certain that his horses are unfit for the journey to Dover that he is willing to swear on the Bible.

"lee-dyed..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter V)

The phrase "lee-dyed" means that the bottle of wine is dyed with residual sediment. The word "lee" also has another definition, meaning someone of little import.

"took up her knitting..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter V)

Madame Defarge's constant knitting, which becomes significant later in the novel, recalls the Parisian women who sat beside the guillotine during public executions throughout the French Revolution. These women were called tricoteuses, which literally means "knitting woman" from the French tricoteuse.

"provender..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter VI)

“Provender” here means food or provisions. However, it can also refer to dry food for livestock, such as oats or hay. Dickens’s usage of the word further emphasizes Dr. Manette’s imprisonment.

"postillion..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter VI)

The word "postillion" refers to a guide who rides the left-sided horse in a carriage drawn by two horses.

"sculleries..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter I)

The word "scullery" refers to a small room at the back of a house, sometimes a kitchen. Sculleries were used to perform household duties like washing dishes or clothes.

"Anno Domini..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter I)

Anno Domini is a latin phrase which means “the Year of Our Lord." Similar to B.C. ("before Christ"), the term labels the years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars following the death of Jesus Christ.

"pillory..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter II)

The word "pillory" refers to a wooden frame with neck and wrist cutouts, used to expose prisoners and humiliate them before the public.

"Privy Council..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter III)

A privy council is a group of advisers appointed by the English sovereign, and made up of present and former government ministers from the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

"laconic..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IV)

Laconic refers to a person, speech, or style of writing that is concise to the point of seeming rude. Mr. Darnay responds curtly to Mr. Carton because he (presumably) does not like that Mr. Carton speaks sarcastically about Lucie Manette.

"Hilary Term and Michaelmas..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter V)

“Michaelmas”—or “Michaelmas Term”—and “Hilary Term” are the first and second terms at several prominent universities in the United Kingdom, with a term referring to a designated period of time during the academic calendar. Both are named after the feasts of saints that fall during the span of their terms: Michaelmas, which lasts from September or October to Christmas, commemorates the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels on September 29. Hilary Term, which lasts from January to March, refers to the Feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers on January 14.

"Bacchanalian propensities..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter V)

The adjective “Bacchanalian” alludes to Bacchus, the ancient Roman god of wine known for debauchery and intoxication. The phrase used here—"Bacchanalian propensities"—means drunkenness.

"apostrophize..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter V)

The word "apostrophizing" means to refer to someone who is not present. Mr. Stryver apostrophizes Sydney Carton by asking, “‘How have I done what I have done?’” and “‘how do I do what I do?’”

"propitiate..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter VIII)

To “propitiate” means to attempt to please or attain the goodwill of another person, spirit, or god. The peasants are therefore not propitiating; their faces appear “drooped” because they are starving, not because they are trying to appeal to the Marquis’s good graces.

"the Furies..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter VIII)

The Furies are three mythological, winged goddesses of vengeance. They tormented humans for disturbing the natural order, murdered criminals, and inflicted famines and pestilence on the world.

"flambeau..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IX)

A “flambeau” is a flaming torch. Dickens repeatedly mentions flambeaux (the plural form) in his description of the Marquis’s chateau. The image of a flaming torch, along with the formidable stone architecture of the building, suggests historical regression and cruelty—two key characteristics of the Marquis himself.

"disinterestedly,..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter X)

Charles Darnay’s love for Lucie Manette is “disinterested” because it is genuine and disconnected from self-serving motivations. As we shall see, Charles’s authentic affection for Lucie is meant to be contrasted with the attentions of a potentially less-suitable man.

"bumpers..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)

A “bumper” is a glass or cup filled to the brim—in this case, with alcoholic punch. Sydney Carton, who is inclined to use alcohol to cope with depression and disappointment, is clearly distressed by Mr. Stryver’s intentions to propose to Lucie Manette.

"ostentatious friendliness..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)

Ostentatious behavior is pretentious or ingenuine, with the purpose of pleasing or manipulating another person. Mr. Stryver is frequently ostentatious; in this case, he is being friendly towards Sydney Carton in order to prepare him for a potentially unpleasant “disclosure.”

"incorrigible..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)

The adjective “incorrigible” means incapable of change or improvement. Sydney Carton believes that his character—and therefore his lot in life—is unable to be reformed.

"wet-towelling ..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)

Recollection (especially recalling “to life”) is an important theme in A Tale of Two Cities. In this case, Dr. Manette begs Charles Darnay to not disclose his true identity because it will “recall” memories that might trigger the resurrection of Dr. Manette’s trauma-induced amnesia.

"profligates..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIII)

A “profligate” is a corrupt and promiscuous person. Sydney Carton believes that his immorality transcends redemption—he is incapable of change and therefore unworthy of Lucie’s affection.

"dropsical..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIV)

The word “dropsical” refers to an edema, a condition characterized by the accumulation of water in the body, especially the hands, feet, and ankles.

"vinous..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XV)

The adjective “vinous” refers to the inebriating effects of drinking wine. Since Dickens employs red wine to foreshadow the eventual bloodshed of the French Revolution, the intoxication of red wine symbolizes the growing resentment of Saint Antoine's people.

"this good mender of roads, called Jacques..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XV)

As readers learn at the end of Book I, “Jacques” is a code name for instigators of the French Revolution. Here, the mender of roads has relinquished his individual identity for the good of the general public and taken on the name "Jacques."

"parricide..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XV)

The word "parricide” refers to someone who murders a close family member, especially a parent. The peasant who murdered the Marquis essentially committed parricide by killing "the father of his tenants."

"aquiline..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVI)

The adjective “aquiline” means having hawk-like features. Mr. Barsad’s nose, which is shaped like a hawk’s beak, serves as a fitting image for a "sinister" spy and enemy to the peasants.

"revulsion..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVIII)

The noun “revulsion” here likely means to either abruptly change one’s response to a situation or to withdraw. Dr. Manette is both responding erratically and withdrawing in response to learning Charles Darnay’s true identity.

"How lightly I valued the obligation I was conferring..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVIII)

The noun “obligation” here refers to fulfilling one’s sense of duty, as opposed to being explicitly expected to carry out an action. Mr. Lorry means that he did not realize he was “‘conferring’” Charles’s bride when he brought Lucie across the English Channel as a baby.

" “I, my Pross?” (By this time, Mr. Lorry dared to be pleasant with her on occasion.)..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVIII)

The noun “obligation” here refers to fulfilling one’s sense of duty, as opposed to being explicitly expected to carry out an action. Mr. Lorry means that he did not realize he was “‘conferring’” Charles’s bride when he brought Lucie across the English Channel as a baby.

"magnanimous..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XX)

In this context, “magnanimous” refers to courageousness, nobility, and loftiness of character. Lucie Manette is not convinced that Sydney Carton is an inherently bad person; she believes he must be reformed, or figuratively “resurrected.”

"dissolute..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XX)

A “dissolute” person is disreputable, immoral, and lacks integrity. Sydney Carton is committed to his identity as a “‘dissolute dog’” and seems unconvinced that he might be capable of change.

"predominate..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXI)

The verb “to predominate” means to exercise remarkable influence or control over a situation or person. Lucie’s nurturing influence, however, is “predominate nowhere”; she weaves her symbolic “golden thread” without apparent exertion.

"King’s Bench..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXI)

The "King's Bench" refers to a division of the English High Court of Justice.

"Hôtel de Ville..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXI)

In France, the "Hôtel de Ville" is a building equivalent to a City Hall.

"modicum..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXII)

The noun “modicum” here refers to a very small portion of bread. Dickens strongly implies that the angry French peasants, though initially successful in their invasion of the Bastille, have done little to alleviate their poverty.

"low caste..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXIII)

The noun “caste” refers to the Hindu class system, which restricts occupations (and access to higher-caste individuals) based on inherited rank or privilege. Outside of Hindu society, a caste system generally features strict social barriers based on inherited status.

"sacristan..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXIII)

The word “sacristan” refers to a sexton or church officer who presides over a church and its parish. This individuals also takes care of sacred equipment in a "sacristy."

"Sardanapalus’s..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXIV)

Sardanapalus was an ancient king of Assyria. During the Romantic Era in Europe, this ancient king became a popular figure in literature and art because of his decadent and indulgent lifestyle.

"by Jupiter..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXIV)

The exclamation “by Jupiter" or “by Jove” is similar to "by God" and is used to provide emphasis or display shock. During the 18th century, this phrase would have been used instead of "by God," which would have been considered profane.

"protégés..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXIV)

The noun “protégé” refers to a student or mentee who receives training or guidance from an older and wiser person of authority, prominence, or social influence.

"tricolour cockade..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter I)

The word “cockade” refers to the ribbons worn on a hat to demonstrate rank, a servant's livery, or loyalty to a political party. The "tricolour cockade" here is likely the colors of the French flag—red, white, and blue.

"beastly..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter II)

Dickens’s use of words like “howling,” “beastly,” and “matted locks” strongly suggests that rather than encouraging positive social change, mass riots cause citizens to regress into a primal, animalistic state.

"metempsychosis..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter II)

The noun “metempsychosis” refers to the supposed transfer or transmigration of a human (or other animal) soul to another living body upon death. Dickens uses it to sarcastically suggest that the fleeing nobleman is attempting to “transfer” his soul into the body of a servant. However, as the narrator acknowledges, he is “still the same Monseigneur” who required four servants to assist him in the preparation of his drinking chocolate.

"ligatures..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter II)

The word "ligatures" refers to bindings, such as the torn linens used to tie the prisoners' wrists. Here, their hands are tied as they are brought to the guillotine.

"Samaritans..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter IV)

Here, the noun “samaritan” refers to a charitable, helpful individual. This definition stems from the parable of the "Good Samaritan" in the biblical book of Luke 10:25-37, in which a traveler is beaten and left naked on a road. A priest and a Levite pass by without helping the traveler, but a good-hearted Samaritan stops to help him.

"tumbrels..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter V)

The noun “tumbrel” refers to a cart that was used to carry groups of condemned prisoners to the guillotine, where they would be publicly beheaded. Dickens frequently mentions the foreboding sound of tumbrels rattling through the streets of Paris.

"tergiversation..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter VIII)

The noun “tergiversation” refers to evasion, or the frequent changing of one’s opinions regarding a particular cause. The word can also refer to the abandonment of a cause, political party, or religion.

"Pont Neuf..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter VIII)

The Pont Neuf, which means “New Bridge” in French, is the oldest standing bridge in Paris along the river Seine. It stands beside the western point of the Île de la Cité, which was the birthplace of Paris, then known as Lutetia, between 250 and 225 BCE.

"fardens..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter IX)

The noun “farden," which is slang for “farthing,” was a form of UK currency equal to one quarter of a penny. In 1961, the farthing was removed from circulation.

"sarse..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter IX)

The noun “sarse" in the phrase "For you cannot sarse the goose and not the gander" is a variation of the cliché “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

"porterage..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter IX)

The noun “porterage” refers to the cost of hiring a porter. Porters carried baggage, supplies, or other burdens. In this case the porter carries tumbrels full of prisoners.

"imperious..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter X)

The adjective “imperious” can refer to pompousness, arrogance, or an otherwise domineering nature that befits a person of rank or authority—such as the aristocrats who force Dr. Manette into their carriage.

"despond..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XI)

The verb “despond” means to become discouraged or to lose confidence. Sydney Carton, confident in his decision to switch places with Charles Darnay, urges Mr. Lorry to remain positive.

"cravat..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XII)

The noun “cravat” refers to a dressy woolen or silk cloth tie. Sydney Carton attempts to make himself presentable and switch places with Charles Darnay by adjusting his "loose cravat."

"epicure..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XIV)

The noun “epicure” refers to a connoisseur of food and wine. During the time of A Tale of Two Cities, an epicure could also refer to someone devoted to sensual pleasures.

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