"Black Swan Green" by David Mitchell, List 1

Set in the early 1980s, this coming-of-age novel explores underlying tensions and turmoil in a seemingly quiet English village.

This list covers "January Man"–"Hangman."

Here are links to our lists for the novel: List 1, List 2, List 3, List 4, List 5

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. stammer
    speak haltingly
    So anyway, I took a deep breath, picked up the receiver, and said our number. I can say that without stammering, at least. Usually.
  2. fuselage
    the central body of an airplane holding crew and passengers
    The glebe was littered with mangled fuselages and blackened wings. I'd shoot the Soviet airmen with tranquilizer darts as they pressed their ejector seats.
  3. incursion
    the act of entering some territory or domain
    I put the blind back to how it was, checked I'd left no other traces of my incursion, slipped out, and flew downstairs to see who it was.
  4. gouge
    make a groove in
    Mind you, if they knew Eliot Bolivar, who gets poems published in Black Swan Green Parish Magazine, was me, they’d gouge me to death behind the tennis courts with blunt woodwork tools...
  5. fray
    a noisy fight
    Ross Wilcox and Gary Drake and Dawn Madden targeted me from the start. No matter how I tried to dodge through the fray it was hopeless.
  6. frigate
    a warship larger than a destroyer and smaller than a cruiser
    Tom Yew serves in the Royal Navy on a frigate called HMS Coventry.
  7. venue
    the scene of any event or action
    Mum says she won't let the dining table be used as a venue for “adolescent discontent.”
  8. discontent
    a longing for something better than the present situation
    Before Christmas I asked what not liking the taste of sprouts has to do with “adolescent discontent.”
  9. morbid
    suggesting the horror of death and decay
    “If you drown, what happens to your body?”
    Julia rolled her eyes like Jesus on his cross.
    “Bit of a morbid topic for the dinner table.”
  10. hospice
    a program of medical care for the terminally ill
    I pushed on. Usually Dad likes talking about nature and stuff. “But that bird at granddad’s hospice. You said it was a nightingale.”
  11. poultice
    a medical dressing spread on a cloth and applied to the skin
    The poultice sort of tickled but the pain was too vicious and I was fighting the cold too hard. The sour aunt smeared the goo on till it was used up and my ankle completely clagged.
  12. marzipan
    confection made of sugar, almond paste, and egg whites
    “It smells like... marzipan.”
  13. innards
    the organs in a body, collectively
    The glass face, the hour hand, and the minute hand'd gone and only a bent second hand was left. When I fell on the ice, it must've happened then. The casing was split and half its innards'd spilt out.
  14. stifle
    smother or suppress
    I remember Lucy Sneads whispering to Angela Bullock, stifling giggles.
  15. outfox
    beat through cleverness and wit
    The only way to outfox Hangman is to think one sentence ahead, and if you see a stammer-word coming up, alter your sentence so you won't need to use it.
  16. melancholy
    characterized by or causing or expressing sadness
    If I was speaking to another thirteen-year-old and said the word “ melancholy” to avoid stammering on “sad,” for example, I'd be a laughingstock 'cause kids aren't s'posed to use adult words like “ melancholy.” Not at Upton-on-Severn Comprehensive, anyway.
  17. lapse
    end, at least for a long time
    Another strategy is to buy time by saying “er...” in the hope that Hangman's concentration'll lapse and you can sneak the word out.
  18. brooch
    a decorative pin
    She's forty or maybe even older, and has fat silver brooches, wispy bronze hair, and flowery clothes.
  19. scurvy
    a condition caused by deficiency of ascorbic acid
    I told Mrs. de Roo how I'd heard Eskimo kids spend time under artificial sunlamps to stop them getting scurvy, 'cause at the North Pole winter lasts for most of the year.
  20. nigh
    near in time or place or relationship
    “We must all face our demons one day, Taylor, and for you, that time is nigh.”
  21. metronome
    clicking pendulum indicating the tempo of a piece of music
    Then Mrs. de Roo got out her Metro Gnome: Metro Gnomes're upside-down pendulums without the clock part. They tock rhythms. They’re small, which could be why they’re called gnomes. Music students normally use them but speech therapists do too.
  22. bleak
    offering little or no hope
    Z for Zachariah’s about a girl called Ann who lives in a valley with its own freak weather system that protects it after a nuclear war's poisoned the rest of the country and killed everyone else off. For all Ann knows she's the only person alive in the British Isles. As a book it's utterly brill but a bit bleak.
  23. accommodation
    making or becoming suitable; adjusting to circumstances
    No, it's a question—and this might sound nutty—of understanding it, of coming to a working accommodation with it, of respecting it, of not fearing it.
  24. teetotaler
    someone who abstains from drinking alcoholic beverages
    Back in Durban I had a friend who'd once been an alcoholic. One day I asked him how he'd cured himself. My friend said he'd done no such thing. I said, 'What do you mean? You haven't touched a drop in three years!' He said all he'd done was become a teetotal alcoholic.
  25. instill
    teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions
    Craig Salt dropped by while I was there to instill some God-fearing discipline into the troops, but Danny had him eating out of his hand in five minutes flat.
  26. indispensable
    absolutely necessary
    Dad asked what Mrs. de Roo'd thought about his diary idea. Her comment that it was “most informative” fueled his good mood. “‘Informative'? Indispensable, more like!
  27. posh
    elegant and fashionable
    This Ewan must be a Worcester Cathedral School kid. Posh.
  28. skulk
    lie in wait or behave in a sneaky and secretive manner
    “No, I certainly will not be bringing him. Thing spends his Saturdays skulking up trees or hiding down holes.”
  29. lurch
    move abruptly
    Lurching with shame, I hid my poem with my body.
  30. guffaw
    laugh boisterously
    Guffawing, puzzled, appalled, pitying. Who decides which defects are funny and which ones are tragic?
  31. leprosy
    communicable disease characterized by wasting of body parts
    The bathroom mirror, worse luck, showed no signs of leprosy.
  32. truant
    one who is absent from school without permission
    Mr. Kempsey'd notice straight off that I was absent on my dreaded form-assembly day. Mum'd be phoned by morning break. Mr. Nixon'd get involved. Dad'd be called out of his Wednesday meeting. Truant officers and their sniffer dogs'd be put on my trail.
  33. anorak
    a kind of heavy hooded jacket
    School was all skiddy floors this morning, damp steaming anoraks, teachers telling kids off for screaming and first years playing illegal tag in the corridors and third-year girls trawling the corridors with linked arms singing some crappy pop song.
  34. clemency
    leniency and compassion shown toward offenders
    "Petitioning me to grant a last-minute act of clemency.”
  35. trepidation
    a feeling of alarm or dread
    "Am I to understand that you anticipate this morning's form-assembly with a level of trepidation one might describe as 'debilitating dread'?”
  36. debilitating
    impairing strength and vitality
    "Am I to understand that you anticipate this morning's form-assembly with a level of trepidation one might describe as ' debilitating dread'?”
  37. conducive
    tending to bring about; being partly responsible for
    It seems your dedicated speech therapist holds the opinion that a postponement of this morning's trial by ordeal may be conducive to a longer-term level of self-confidence vis-a-vis the Arts of Rhetoric and Public Speaking.
  38. rhetoric
    study of the technique for using language effectively
    It seems your dedicated speech therapist holds the opinion that a postponement of this morning's trial by ordeal may be conducive to a longer-term level of self-confidence vis-a-vis the Arts of Rhetoric and Public Speaking.
  39. nebula
    an immense cloud of gas and dust in interstellar space
    I just stared at the chalk nebulae on the blackboard.
  40. altruistic
    showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others
    “Your spirited defense of established protocol is commendable, Drake, and, no doubt, altruistic. However, I possess reliable intelligence that Taylor's vocal apparati are in an unseaworthy condition. Thus, your classmate is excused on quasi-medical grounds.”

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