"The Woman Warrior"--Vocabulary from "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe"

Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior" recounts the troubles and triumphs of Chinese women in ancient folklore and in modern day America. Learn this word list that focuses on the theme of voice in the chapter.

Here are links to all of our lists for “The Woman Warrior”:
No Name Woman, White Tigers, Shaman, At the Western Palace, and A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. blabber
    speak (about unimportant matters) rapidly and incessantly
    "Why don’t you quit blabbering and get to work?”
  2. tamper
    alter or falsify, usually secretively or dishonestly
    If my mother was not lying she should have cut more, scraped away the rest of the frenum skin, because I have a terrible time talking. Or she should not have cut at all, tampering with my speech.
  3. skitter
    move about or proceed hurriedly
    A telephone call makes my throat bleed and takes up that day’s courage. It spoils my day with self-disgust when I hear my broken voice come skittering out into the open.
    In Kingston's use of the word "skittering" here, there could be a connection to the word "skittish", which means "unpredictably excitable"--which often describes horses who are nervous and jumpy, especially when they're out in the open and easily seen as prey.
  4. mute
    unable to speak
    The girls were not mute. They screamed and yelled during recess, when there were no rules;
  5. nonexistent
    not having being or actuality
    Our voices were too soft or nonexistent, and our parents never signed the permission slips anyway.
  6. sullen
    showing a brooding ill humor
    “What am I supposed to do when I get there?” I said, sullen, trapped.
  7. immensity
    unusual largeness in size or extent or number
    I felt the weight and immensity of things impossible to explain to the druggist.
  8. guttural
    relating to or articulated in the throat
    We make guttural peasant noise and have Ton Duc Thang names you can’t remember.
    The technical definition of "guttural" doesn't make Kingston's description sound so bad; but another definition of "guttural" is "like the sounds of frogs and crows", which sounds almost as ugly as the voice of a pressed duck.
  9. assertion
    the act of affirming or stating something
    Some of us gave up, shook our heads, and said nothing, not one word. Some of us could not even shake our heads. At times shaking my head no is more self- assertion than I can manage.
  10. falter
    be or become weak, unsteady, or uncertain
    Most of us eventually found some voice, however faltering.
  11. arrogant
    having or showing feelings of unwarranted importance
    One afternoon in the sixth grade (that year I was arrogant with talk, not knowing there were going to be high school dances and college seminars to set me back), I and my little sister and the quiet girl and her big sister stayed late after school for some reason.
  12. recluse
    one who lives in solitude
    Instead of starting junior high school, I lived like the Victorian recluses I read about.
  13. gesticulate
    show, express, or direct through movement
    First grade was when I discovered eye control; with my seeing I could shrink the teacher down to a height of one inch, gesticulating and mouthing on the horizon.
  14. evasive
    deliberately vague or ambiguous
    The adults get mad, evasive, and shut you up if you ask.
    Another definition of "evasive" is "avoiding or escaping from difficulty or danger"--this could also fit the example sentence, because Kingston explains that the adults in her family don't like explaining things, especially things related to their Chinese background, perhaps because of difficulty, but also because they're afraid the children might go blabbing to American authorities who could deport them.
  15. obscure
    marked by difficulty of style or expression
    Usually I did not understand the words in operas, whether because of our obscure dialect or theirs I didn’t know, but I heard one line sung out into the night air in a woman’s voice high and clear as ice.
  16. uproarious
    marked by boisterous merriment or convulsive laughter
    Walking home, the noisy women shook their old heads and sang a folk song that made them laugh uproariously:
  17. excruciating
    extremely painful
    If the telling got excruciating and her anger too bad, I’d tell five items once a week like the Catholic girls, and I’d still be through in a year, maybe ten months.
    The word "excruciating" has the Latin root cruciare (connected to crux, meaning cross), which means to crucify. Although Kingston is not comparing her pain to crucifixion, her references to Catholic girls and confession suggest the image.
  18. explicit
    precisely and clearly expressed or readily observable
    But I had talked, and she acted as if she hadn’t heard.
    Perhaps she hadn’t understood. I had to be more explicit. I hated this.
  19. gab
    talk profusely
    “I can’t stand this whispering,” she said looking right at me, stopping her squeezing. “Senseless gabbings every night. I wish you would stop. Go away and work. Whispering, whispering, making no sense. Madness. I don’t feel like hearing your craziness.”
  20. taut
    pulled or drawn tight
    My throat hurt constantly, vocal cords taut to snapping.
  21. burble
    flow in an irregular current with a bubbling noise
    One night when the laundry was so busy that the whole family was eating dinner there, crowded around the little round table, my throat burst open. I stood up, talking and burbling.
  22. concrete
    a strong hard building material made with gravel and cement
    Concrete pours out of my mouth to cover the forests with freeways and sidewalks.
    In the example sentence, Kingston is using the physical concrete as an image to emphasize how she prefers to see the world concretely, which would be in ways that are "capable of being perceived by the senses." For Kingston, the Chinese way of thinking is like a forest that she gets lost in, and if she could, she would pave over the forests with concrete so that they would be more like the easier to travel American freeways and sidewalks.
  23. gaucherie
    a socially awkward or tactless act
    The throat pain always returns, though, unless I tell what I really think, whether or not I lose my job, or spit out gaucheries all over a party.
  24. rave
    talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner
    "I want every last one of you at that theater,” my grandmother raved.
  25. yearn
    desire strongly or persistently
    They reached again and again for a high note, yearning toward a high note, which they found at last and held— an icicle in the desert.

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