"12 Years a Slave," Vocabulary from Chapters 8-14

As you read Solomon Northup's "12 Years a Slave" (etext found here), learn these word lists for the autobiography: Chapters 1-7, Chapters 8-14, Chapters 15-22

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. interminable
    tiresomely long; seemingly without end
    Large cotton and sugar plantations line each shore, extending back to the borders of interminable swamps.
  2. emaciated
    very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
    She had grown feeble and emaciated, and was still mourning for her children.
  3. contumely
    a rude expression intended to offend or hurt
    An unfriended, helpless slave—what could I do, what could I say, to justify, in the remotest manner, the heinous act I had committed, of resenting a white man's contumely and abuse.
  4. decorous
    characterized by propriety and dignity and good taste
    "Cross your hands," commanded Tibeats, with the addition of such a shuddering expression of blasphemy as is not decorous to repeat.
  5. importunity
    insistent solicitation and entreaty
    Perceiving any importunity altogether vain, I crossed my hands, submitting humbly to whatever disposition they might please to make of me.
  6. excruciating
    extremely painful
    I was in great misery—all sore and swollen—the slightest movement producing excruciating suffering.
  7. elucidate
    make clear and comprehensible
    "That nigger that don't take care—that don't obey his lord—that's his master—d'ye see?—that 'ere nigger shall be beaten with many stripes. Now, 'many' signifies a great many—forty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty lashes. That's Scripter!" and so Peter continued to elucidate the subject for a great length of time, much to the edification of his sable audience.
  8. disconcerted
    having self-possession upset; thrown into confusion
    If it were only deeper, they might lose the scent, and thus disconcerted, afford me the opportunity of evading them.
  9. garrulous
    full of trivial conversation
    My midnight intrusion had awakened the feathered tribes, which seemed to throng the morass in hundreds of thousands, and their garrulous throats poured forth such multitudinous sounds—there was such a fluttering of wings—such sullen plunges in the water all around me—that I was affrighted and appalled.
  10. ruse
    a deceptive maneuver, especially to avoid capture
    I was too wearied to run again, and too desperate to be taken, and therefore adopted a ruse that proved entirely successful.
  11. indigenous
    originating where it is found
    Oranges, peaches, plums, and most other fruits are indigenous to the rich, warm soil of Avoyelles; but the apple, the most common of them all in colder latitudes, is rarely to be seen.
  12. tribulation
    an annoying or frustrating or catastrophic event
    In prosperity, and when there is nothing to injure or make him afraid, he remembers Him not, and is ready to defy Him; but place him in the midst of dangers, cut him off from human aid, let the grave open before him--then it is, in the time of his tribulation, that the scoffer and unbelieving man turns to God for help, feeling there is no other hope, or refuge, or safety, save in his protecting arm.
  13. pernicious
    exceedingly harmful
    This is no way of dealing with them, when first brought into the country. It will have a pernicious influence, and set them all running away.
  14. effectual
    producing or capable of producing an intended result
    A little kindness would be far more effectual in restraining them, and rendering them obedient, than the use of such deadly weapons.
  15. noxious
    injurious to physical or mental health
    Rank and noxious weeds had overspread the once cultivated field—serpents sunned themselves on the doorway of the crumbling cabin.
  16. impervious
    not admitting of passage or capable of being affected
    We were now in the midst of trees of enormous growth, whose wide-spreading branches almost shut out the light of the sun, while the space between the trunks was an impervious mass of cane, with here and there an occasional palmetto.
  17. scrutinize
    look at critically or searchingly, or in minute detail
    Those having the air and appearance of gentlemen, whose dress indicated the possession of wealth, frequently took no notice of me whatever; but a shabby fellow, an unmistakable loafer, never failed to hail me, and to scrutinize and examine me in the most thorough manner.
  18. sojourn
    spend a certain length of time; reside temporarily
    There are no inns along the highways in that portion of the State where I sojourned.
  19. dilapidated
    in a state of decay, ruin, or deterioration
    She became at length, they said, utterly helpless, for several weeks lying on the ground floor in a dilapidated cabin, dependent upon the mercy of her fellowthralls for an occasional drop of water, and a morsel of food.
  20. unequivocal
    admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding
    His manners are repulsive and coarse, and his language gives speedy and unequivocal evidence that he has never enjoyed the advantages of an education.
  21. laggard
    wasting time
    If it falls short, it is considered evidence that he has been laggard, and a greater or less number of lashes is the penalty.
  22. celerity
    a rate that is rapid
    Some of them seem to have a natural knack, or quickness, which enables them to pick with great celerity, and with both hands, while others, with whatever practice or industry, are utterly unable to come up to the ordinary standard.
  23. cumbersome
    difficult to handle or use because of size or weight
    I made havoc also with the branches, loaded with the yet unbroken bolls, the long, cumbersome sack swinging from side to side in a manner not allowable in the cotton field.
  24. proportion
    adjust in size relative to other things
    The delinquent, whose weight had fallen short, was taken out, stripped, made to lie upon the ground, face downwards, when he received a punishment proportioned to his offence.
  25. presumptuous
    going beyond what is appropriate, permitted, or courteous
    Usually his whip was in his hand, ready to fall about the ears of the presumptuous thrall, who dared to rest a moment, or even stop to catch his breath.
  26. pell-mell
    in a wild or reckless manner
    With a slash, and crack, and flourish of the whip, he would shout again, "Dance, niggers, dance," and away they would go once more, pell-mell, while I, spurred by an occasional sharp touch of the lash, sat in a corner, extracting from my violin a marvelous quick-stepping tune.
  27. upbraid
    express criticism towards
    The mistress often upbraided him, declaring she would return to her father's house at Cheneyville; nevertheless, there were times she could not restrain a burst of laughter, on witnessing his uproarious pranks.
  28. deprivation
    act of withholding food or money or rights
    Notwithstanding these deprivations in order to gratify the whim of an unreasonable master, we had to be in the field as soon as it was light, and during the day perform the ordinary and accustomed task.
  29. refractory
    stubbornly resistant to authority or control
    He is known as a "nigger breaker," distinguished for his faculty of subduing the spirit of the slave, and priding himself upon his reputation in this respect, as a jockey boasts of his skill in managing a refractory horse.
  30. unremitting
    uninterrupted in time and indefinitely long continuing
    In his youth he was renowned for his great strength, but age and unremitting toil have somewhat shattered his powerful frame and enfeebled his mental faculties.
  31. licentious
    lacking moral discipline
    Her back bore the scars of a thousand stripes; not because she was backward in her work, nor because she was of an unmindful and rebellious spirit, but because it had fallen to her lot to be the slave of a licentious master and a jealous mistress.
  32. estrangement
    separation resulting from hostility
    In the great house, for days together, there were high and angry words, poutings and estrangement, whereof she was the innocent cause.
  33. remuneration
    something that compensates
    It is well understood that all hands must labor on the Sabbath, and it is equally well understood that those especially who are hired, as I was to Judge Turner, and others in succeeding years, shall receive remuneration for it.
  34. embolden
    give encouragement to
    I was emboldened to risk the hazard of such a step, from overhearing a conversation, in the course of which I ascertained he was a native of the North.
  35. insatiable
    impossible to satisfy
    In his sober moments he could not always be prevailed upon to indulge his wife's insatiable thirst for vengeance.
  36. avarice
    reprehensible acquisitiveness; insatiable desire for wealth
    Thus did pride, and jealousy, and vengeance war with avarice and brute-passion in the mansion of my master, filling it with daily tumult and contention.
  37. affront
    a deliberately offensive act
    About the time of which I am now writing, an event occurred in our immediate neighborhood, which made a deep impression upon me, and which shows the state of society existing there, and the manner in which affronts are oftentimes avenged.
  38. acquitted
    declared not guilty of a specific offense or crime
    A sort of trial or investigation was had at Marksville, when he was acquitted, and returned to his plantation, rather more respected, as I thought, than ever, from the fact that the blood of a fellow being was on his soul.
  39. scruples
    motivation deriving from ethical or moral principles
    Not through cowardice, nor from any conscientious scruples, in my opinion, but through the influence of his wife, he was restrained from accepting the challenge of his enemy.
  40. condign
    fitting or appropriate and deserved
    Such occurrences, which would bring upon the parties concerned in them merited and condign punishment in the Northern States, are frequent on the bayou, and pass without notice, and almost without comment.

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