"The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. Le Guin, Chapters 1-4

In Ursula Le Guin's classic science fiction novel, a human emissary travels to Winter, an alien world with a culture very different from his own.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1-4, Chapters 5-7, Chapters 8-11, Chapters 12-15, Chapters 16-20
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definitions & notes only words
  1. potentate
    a ruler who is unconstrained by law
    First come merchants, potentates, and artisans of the City Erhenrang, rank after rank, magnificently clothed, advancing through the rain as comfortably as fish through the sea.
  2. lilt
    articulate in a very careful and rhythmic way
    Next come the lords and mayors and representatives, one person, or five, or forty-five, or four hundred, from each Domain and Co-Domain of Karhide, a vast ornate procession that moves to the music of metal horns and hollow blocks of bone and wood and the dry, pure lilting of electric flutes.
  3. bedeck
    decorate
    The various banners of the great Domains tangle in a rain-beaten confusion of color with the yellow pennants that bedeck the way, and the various musics of each group clash and interweave in many rhythms echoing in the deep stone street.
  4. disconsolate
    sad beyond comforting; incapable of being soothed
    The gossiwor, played only in the king’s presence, produces a preposterous disconsolate bellow.
  5. functionary
    a worker who holds or is invested with an office
    Next, the royal party, guards and functionaries arid dignitaries of the city and the court, deputies, senators, chancellors, ambassadors, lords of the Kingdom, none of them keeping step or rank yet walking with great dignity; and among them is King Argaven XV, in white tunic and shirt and breeches, with leggings of saffron leather and a peaked yellow cap.
  6. litter
    conveyance consisting of a chair or bed carried by bearers
    Behind this group eight sturdy fellows bear the royal litter, rough with yellow sapphires, in which no king has ridden for centuries, a ceremonial relic of the very-long-ago.
  7. shoal
    a sandbank in a stretch of water that is visible at low tide
    All about us as we stand jammed on our platform lie the faces of the people of the city, upturned like a shoal of brown, round pebbles, mica-glittering with thousands of watching eyes.
  8. mason
    a craftsman who works with stone or brick
    Masons below have set an electric winch going, and as the king mounts higher the keystone of the arch goes up past him in its sling, is raised, settled, and fitted almost soundlessly, great top-weight block though it is, into the gap between the two piers, making them one, one thing, an arch.
  9. phlegmatic
    showing little emotion
    They are anything but a phlegmatic people, yet they are obdurate, they are pertinacious, they finish plastering joints.
  10. obdurate
    showing unfeeling resistance to tender feelings
    They are anything but a phlegmatic people, yet they are obdurate, they are pertinacious, they finish plastering joints.
  11. pertinacious
    stubbornly unyielding
    They are anything but a phlegmatic people, yet they are obdurate, they are pertinacious, they finish plastering joints.
  12. augmentation
    the act of enlarging or increasing
    In Estraven, for instance, one feels the man’s power as an augmentation of his character; he cannot make an empty gesture or say a word that is not listened to.
  13. effeminate
    having unsuitable feminine qualities
    Annoyed by this sense of effeminate intrigue I got off the platform and lost myself in the mob, crouching and slouching somewhat to do so.
  14. augury
    an event indicating important things to come
    “A good augury for the success of the new Port,” I said.
  15. insipid
    lacking interest or significance or impact
    I was trying to speak insipidly, yet everything I said to Tibe seemed to take on a double meaning.
  16. adventitious
    associated by chance and not an integral part
    Karhiders eat four solid meals a day, breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, along with a lot of adventitious nibbling and gobbling in between.
  17. cloister
    a courtyard with covered walks
    The Palace of Erhenrang is an inner city, a walled wilderness of palaces, towers, gardens, courtyards, cloisters, roofed bridgeways, roofless tunnel-walks, small forests and dungeon-keeps, the product of centuries of paranoia on a grand scale.
  18. render
    cause to become
    Estraven’s house, sign of the king’s high favor, was the Corner Red Dwelling, built 440 years ago for Harmes, beloved kemmering of Emran III, whose beauty is still celebrated, and who was abducted, mutilated, and rendered imbecile by hirelings of the Imierland Faction.
  19. hireling
    a person who works only for money
    Estraven’s house, sign of the king’s high favor, was the Corner Red Dwelling, built 440 years ago for Harmes, beloved kemmering of Emran III, whose beauty is still celebrated, and who was abducted, mutilated, and rendered imbecile by hirelings of the Imierland Faction.
  20. wreak
    cause to happen or to occur as a consequence
    Emran III died forty years after, still wreaking vengeance on his unhappy country: Emran the Illfated.
  21. transmute
    change or alter in form, appearance, or nature
    I wondered at this, but we went to table at once, and one does not talk business while eating; besides, my wonder was diverted to the meal, which was superb, even the eternal breadapples transmuted by a cook whose art I heartily praised.
  22. specious
    deceptively pleasing
    Thus as I sipped my smoking sour beer I thought that at table Estraven’s performance had been womanly, all charm and tact and lack of substance, specious and adroit.
  23. adroit
    quick or skillful or adept in action or thought
    Thus as I sipped my smoking sour beer I thought that at table Estraven’s performance had been womanly, all charm and tact and lack of substance, specious and adroit.
  24. supple
    readily adaptable
    Was it in fact perhaps this soft supple femininity that I disliked and distrusted in him?
  25. imposture
    pretending to be another person
    For it was impossible to think of him as a woman, that dark, ironic, powerful presence near me in the firelit darkness, and yet whenever I thought of him as a man I felt a sense of falseness, of imposture: in him, or in my own attitude towards him?
  26. patronage
    granting favors in return for political support
    “I’m sorry,” he was saying, “that I’ve had to forestall for so long this pleasure of having you in my house; and to that extent at least I’m glad there is no longer any question of patronage between us.”
  27. ruddy
    inclined to a healthy reddish color
    He sat back so that the firelight lay ruddy on his knees and his fine, strong, small hands and the silver tankard he held, but left his face in shadow: a dark face always shadowed by the thick low growing hair and heavy brows and lashes, and by a somber blandness of expression.
  28. foray
    a sudden short attack
    I dislike the thought of their being killed in forays, or sent to Voluntary Farms in Orgoreyn.
  29. obviate
    prevent the occurrence of; prevent from happening
    Why not obviate the subject of dispute?
  30. impugn
    attack as false or wrong
    But that’s not a patriotic idea. In fact it’s a cowardly one, and impugns the shifgrethor of the king himself.”
  31. gaffe
    a socially awkward or tactless act
    My gaffe was even worse in Karhidish, but Estraven did not smile, or wince.
  32. experiential
    of or relating to direct observation or participation
    I know what a king was, Earth’s own history is full of them, but I had no experiential feel for privilege—no tact.
  33. tact
    consideration in dealing with others
    I know what a king was, Earth’s own history is full of them, but I had no experiential feel for privilege—no tact.
  34. mote
    a tiny piece of anything
    All I’ve told him means to him simply that his power is threatened, his kingdom is a dust mote in space, his kingship is a joke to men who rule a hundred worlds.
  35. enigmatic
    not clear to the understanding
    Of all the dark, obstructive, enigmatic souls I had met in this bleak city, his was the darkest.
  36. effrontery
    audacious behavior that you have no right to
    He had the effrontery of the powerful.
  37. fulsome
    unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating
    Estraven took leave of me and turned away; he was never fulsome in his greetings and farewells.
  38. perfidy
    betrayal of a trust
    I was cold, unconfident, obsessed by perfidy, and solitude, and fear.
  39. frostbite
    damage to bodily tissue caused by extreme cold
    They were white as the snow. Yet the frostbite was gone out of them, and he could use his fingers, and stand upon his feet.
  40. blighted
    affected by something that prevents growth or prosperity
    Nothing prospered there in Hearth or tilth, all being blighted with illness, the spring seed frozen in the ground or the ripe grain rotten, and so it had been for many years.
  41. anteroom
    a large entrance or reception area
    It was all knocked right out of me in the anteroom, before I ever saw the king.
  42. verbatim
    using exactly the same words
    The order was printed and posted on several gates and road-posts about the city, and the above is verbatim from one such copy.
  43. dais
    a platform raised above the surrounding level
    Argaven was standing in front of the central and largest fireplace of three, on a low, large dais or platform: a short figure in the reddish gloom, rather potbellied, very erect, dark and featureless in silhouette except for the glint of the big seal-ring on his thumb.
  44. perjure
    make oneself guilty of telling untruths in a court of law
    “Damn him,” he said, “the proud, posturing, perjuring traitor! You dined with him last night, eh? And he told you what a powerful fellow he is, and how he runs the king, and how easy you’ll find me to deal with since he’s been talking to me about you—eh? Is that what he told you, Mr. Ai?”
  45. faction
    a dissenting clique
    Keep clear of factions. Tell your own lies, do your own deeds. And trust no one. D’you know that? Trust no one.
  46. subtlety
    a fine difference in meaning, opinion, or attitude
    Though Argaven might be neither sane nor shrewd, he had had long practice in the evasions and challenges and rhetorical subtleties used in conversation by those whose main aim in life was the achievement and maintenance of the shifgrethor relationship on a high level.
  47. eon
    an interminable period of time
    All the worlds of men were settled, eons ago, from one world, Hain.
  48. malign
    evil or harmful in nature or influence
    “I don’t speak Voidish,” said the king with his dull, malign grin.
  49. panoply
    a complete and impressive array
    I thought of Estraven waiting for me there as the snow fell last night, and felt a pang of pure pity for the man whom I had seen in yesterday’s parade sweating and superb under the weight of his panoply and power, a man at the prime of his career, potent and magnificent—gone now, down, done.
  50. avail
    use to one's advantage
    The king had given me the freedom of the country; I would avail myself of it.

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