"Typical American," Vocabulary from Parts 3-4

When Lai Fu Cheng becomes Ralph, he changes more than just his name. No longer a refugee from communism, he says he has come to find the American Dream in Gish Jen's modern immigration novel, "Typical American."

Learn these word lists: Parts 1-2, Parts 3-4

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. barren
    an uninhabited wilderness that is worthless for cultivation
    The barren bears.
  2. seep
    pass gradually or leak or as if through small openings
    The language of outside the house had seeped well inside—Cadillac, Pyrex, subway, Coney Island, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
  3. transistor
    a semiconductor device capable of amplification
    Transistor radio.
  4. dotage
    mental infirmity as a consequence of old age
    They might or might not have counted themselves happy, though; happiness as they conceived it then was a thing attained, a grand state, involving a fiefdom to survey from the plump comfort of their dotage.
  5. fret
    worry unnecessarily or excessively
    For if they had been able to nod and smile and say, How unruffled we are, then too, they might have been able to fret, We fear it all ending.
  6. enigmatic
    not clear to the understanding
    Helen and Ralph had agreed that they would have a second family in a few years, another two, who with luck would be boys; but in the meantime, Mona and Callie were as soft as their brothers would be, as enigmatic, bullheaded, goofy.
  7. durable
    capable of withstanding wear and tear and decay
    They were a lively, durable luxury, to be “love-loved!” as Helen would say, tweaking their feet.
  8. clever
    mentally quick and resourceful
    This was how Callie knew herself to be clever, like Theresa.
  9. agape
    with the mouth wide open as in wonder or awe
    Ralph, jaw agape, laughed.
  10. extricate
    release from entanglement or difficulty
    Still Mona pulled, giggling, until finally Ralph extricated her wet fingers and closed his mouth firmly and bounced her on his knee to distract her.
  11. yelp
    bark in a high-pitched tone
    Mona was yelping now.
  12. tenure
    give life-time employment to
    No one seemed to mind that Old Chao had not only been granted tenure but was now acting chairman of Ralph’s department.
  13. gingerly
    with extreme care or delicacy
    Helen gingerly placed his steaming bowl in front of it.
  14. precocious
    characterized by exceptionally early development
    Callie, precocious master of the helpful disturbance, knocked her chopsticks to the floor.
  15. brandish
    move or swing back and forth
    Ralph’s tone was teasing; still Helen held her breath until Theresa surfaced, brandishing the retrieved chopsticks.
  16. ruckus
    the act of making a noisy disturbance
    Also, one grabby little boy had, in an ensuing ruckus, lost some teeth.
  17. solemn
    dignified and somber in manner or character
    And not long after that—mirror adjusted, brake off, blinker on, traffic clear—Ralph was pulling away from the curb, as solemn as a boy leaving home.
  18. saunter
    walk leisurely and with no apparent aim
    Too bright, too warm, and too stuffy, but the street garbage did not seem to be emanating gases the way it sometimes did, and most people were wearing clothes; only a few men sauntered around in their potbellies.
  19. savory
    pleasing to the sense of taste
    Zongzi were lotus leaf-wrapped bundles of sticky rice—the girls liked the savory ones, which came tied up in pairs.
  20. dilapidated
    in a state of decay, ruin, or deterioration
    He drove on quickly, up through Harlem, slowing a third time in front of some dilapidated old buildings.
  21. sentinel
    a person employed to keep watch for some anticipated event
    But so breathtaking were the streets that late afternoon, with their sentinel trees and tender gardens, that the sun itself seemed to waver, unsetting, reluctant to leave; it was the onlooker whose presence weighted everything.
  22. waver
    pause or hold back in uncertainty or unwillingness
    But so breathtaking were the streets that late afternoon, with their sentinel trees and tender gardens, that the sun itself seemed to waver, unsetting, reluctant to leave; it was the onlooker whose presence weighted everything.
  23. bungalow
    a small house with a single story
    Tudors, bungalows, A-frames, she explained.
  24. emanate
    proceed or issue forth, as from a source
    Resignation crossed her face; it was not so much an expression as something that appeared to emanate from her pores.
  25. mortgage
    a conveyance of property as security for repaying a loan
    “Well, I hope I can chip in on the mortgage payments.
  26. quip
    make jokes or witty remarks
    “Once a Chang-kee, always a Chang-kee,” she quipped.
  27. spinster
    an elderly unmarried woman
    The meekness of the wire hangers, with their twisted throats and bent heads—they waited too patiently, too neatly, every one a spinster.
  28. admonish
    warn strongly; put on guard
    When she first came to America, her English teacher had admonished her, not for speaking too much, but too little.
  29. intern
    an advanced student or graduate in medicine
    What was hardest about training, for Theresa, was having to sleep in that dank, little room the interns all shared, with men.
  30. lament
    regret strongly
    “We should have tried there first,” Theresa lamented.
  31. poignancy
    a quality that arouses emotions, especially pity or sorrow
    All she knew was that, crossed with shadow, their family life took on a poignancy sharper than she could stand.
  32. blithely
    in a joyous, carefree, or unconcerned manner
    Mona was blithely pointing at a red turtle.
  33. panoply
    a complete and impressive array
    Theresa came home to find Helen lost in a panoply of analytical tools, all laid out on the kitchen table.
  34. wrought
    shaped to fit by altering the contours of a pliable mass
    The stairs had a black wrought iron railing on one side that Mona and Callie at first wouldn’t use, the wall seeming more familiar; but this being their wall now, and not everybody-in-the-entry’s, when Helen showed them how even hands that looked clean left prints, they stopped, and took to running up their five steps without touching anything.
  35. rummage
    search haphazardly
    Then he let her rummage through his desk drawers, rearranging them however she liked.
  36. cunning
    attractive especially by means of smallness or prettiness
    The next February, they had an extra-elaborate Chinese New Year’s dinner, with cunning little dumplings, and balls, and buns, in addition to the usual hot pot with gold-chain bean threads.
  37. empyrean
    surface on which celestial bodies appear to be projected
    For the gatekeepers of heaven were to review him in state, that they might make their decision: Would this man be a credit to the empyrean?
  38. elude
    be incomprehensible to
    It was years before Ralph even knew to ask himself those questions; and then it was only to find that he didn’t know their answers—that his own nature eluded his grasp, like a solid sublimating straightaway, from between his fingers, to gas.
  39. verity
    conformity to reality or actuality
    Down below, verities; up above, mist.
  40. chasten
    correct by punishment or discipline
    A chastened man, an older man, he remembered:
  41. precede
    come before
    Everyone knows this much about faith: that it is preceded by doubt the way day is preceded by night.
  42. ensconce
    fix firmly
    Ralph hesitated; it seemed to him that his head was ensconced in smoke too.

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