Chapters 1–2

After the death of their daughter, Frank McCourt's impoverished immigrant parents decide to return to Ireland. With humor and tenderness, this Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir tells the story of his early life there.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. poverty
    the state of having little or no money and possessions
    People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.
  2. loquacious
    full of trivial conversation
    People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.
  3. pompous
    puffed up with vanity
    People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.
  4. cacophony
    a loud harsh or strident noise
    It created a cacophony of hacking coughs, bronchial rattles, asthmatic wheezes, consumptive croaks.
    The alliteration in this sentence — that is, the repetition of the hard "c"
    — echoes the sound of coughing that the sentence describes.
  5. piety
    righteousness by virtue of being religiously devout
    Limerick gained a reputation for piety, but we knew it was only the rain.
  6. yearn
    desire strongly or persistently
    After wandering and drinking in America and England he yearned for peace in his declining years.
  7. dervish
    a Muslim monk of an order noted for fast ceremonial dancing
    She runs at him and he melts before this whirling dervish with a damaged child in her arms and a healthy one stirring inside.
  8. feeble
    lacking bodily or muscular strength or vitality
    Love her as in childhood
    Though feeble, old and grey
    For you’ll never miss a mother’s love
    Till she’s buried beneath the clay.
  9. lurch
    move haltingly and unsteadily
    Neither knew how to drive and when the police saw the truck lurch and jerk along Myrtle Avenue they pulled it over.
  10. spurn
    reject with contempt
    They resisted the smile and spurned the offer.
  11. grim
    harshly uninviting or formidable in manner or appearance
    Wouldn’t he be better off in California, far from the great-breasted MacNamara sisters and their grim husbands?
  12. atrocious
    exceptionally bad or displeasing
    Sticking on middle names was an atrocious American habit and there was no need for a second name when you’re christened after the man from Assisi.
  13. immersion
    a form of baptism in which a person's body is submerged
    Angela, new mother, agitated, forgot she was holding the child and let him slip into the baptismal font, a total immersion of the Protestant type.
  14. ply
    keep offering or supplying something desirable to someone
    Malachy looked from one to the other, shifted on his feet, pulled his cap down over his eyes, shoved his hands deep in his trouser pockets, said, Och, aye, the way they do in the far reaches of County Antrim, turned, hurried up Court Street to the speakeasy on Atlantic Avenue where he was sure they’d ply him with free drink in honor of his son’s baptism.
  15. waddle
    walk unsteadily
    She picks up Malachy and waddles off.
  16. beholden
    under a moral obligation to someone
    When Dad brings home the first week’s wages Mam is delighted she can pay the lovely Italian man in the grocery shop and she can hold her head up again because there’s nothing worse in the world than to owe and be beholden to anyone.
  17. tread
    put down, place, or press the foot
    Deep in Canadian woods we met
    From one bright island flown.
    Great is the land we tread, but yet
    Our hearts are with our own.
  18. weary
    physically and mentally fatigued
    We have eggs and toast and jam though we’re so weary walking the long streets of Brooklyn we can barely move our jaws to chew.
  19. prod
    push against gently
    The doctor examines the baby, prods her, raises her eyelids, feels her neck, arms, legs.
  20. mien
    a person's appearance, manner, or demeanor
    Because he loved the Motherland,
    Because he loved the Green,
    He goes to meet the martyr’s fate
    With proud and joyous mien
  21. wary
    marked by keen caution and watchful prudence
    So you have to be wary of birds, Francis, birds and Englishmen.
  22. cavort
    play boisterously
    I want to ask him what he’s talking about for even if I’m bursting I feel strange peeing into a pot with roses and maidens cavorting, whatever they are.
  23. perfidy
    an act of deliberate betrayal
    He says you’ll see the bullet holes all over the front and they should be left there to remind the Irish of English perfidy.
  24. frenzy
    state of violent mental agitation
    After they bite the human being they have the frenzy, you know, for there are other fleas around them that also bit the human being and the smell of the blood is too much for them and they go out of their minds.
  25. scarcity
    a small and inadequate amount
    ...the first thing you noticed was a scarcity of gray hairs, all the gray hairs either in the graveyard or across the Atlantic working on railroads or sauntering around in police uniforms.
  26. saunter
    walk leisurely and with no apparent aim
    ...the first thing you noticed was a scarcity of gray hairs, all the gray hairs either in the graveyard or across the Atlantic working on railroads or sauntering around in police uniforms.
  27. demolish
    destroy completely
    She puts the pot down, rocks him till he’s asleep, lays him on the bed and tells the rest of us be quiet or she’ll demolish us.
  28. wean
    gradually deprive of mother's milk
    This is the best thing for nursing mothers and for those who are long weaned.
  29. squander
    spend thoughtlessly; throw away
    If you didn’t squander the money in the pubs I wouldn’t have to follow you the way I did in Brooklyn.
  30. jeer
    laugh at with contempt and derision
    There are boys who might jeer at you and mock you on the street but even they have to be careful because the day will come when the master hits and slaps them and they have to keep the tears behind their eyes or be disgraced forever.
Created on March 15, 2013 (updated November 1, 2018)

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