"Dead End in Norvelt," Vocabulary from Chapters 1-7

Jack Gantos's "Dead End in Norvelt" is a funny take on the typical autobiographical "growing up" novel which includes appearances by a sniper rifle, an obituary column and the Hell's Angels. Eleanor Roosevelt also plays an important role.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Chapters 1-7, Chapters 8-14, Chapters 15-21, Chapters 22-28

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. camouflage
    device or stratagem for concealment or deceit
    I was holding a pair of camouflage Japanese WWII binoculars to my eyes and focusing across her newly planted vegetable garden, and her cornfield, and over ancient Miss Volker’s roof, and then up the Norvelt road...
    "Camouflage" is more often used as a noun or verb, but here it is used as an adjective to describe the markings that would prevent detection. The description of the binoculars makes the narrator seem like a military man, but he is actually a 12 year old boy who is on summer vacation and stealing glimpses of a war movie.
  2. erect
    construct or build
    and past the brick bell tower on my school, and beyond the Community Center, and the tall silver whistle on top of the volunteer fire department to the most distant dark blue hill, which is where the screen for the Viking drive-in movie theater had recently been erected.
  3. elegant
    refined and tasteful in appearance, behavior, or style
    He had a Japanese flag, a sniper’s rifle with a full ammo clip, a dented canteen, a pair of dirty white gloves with a scorched hole shot right through the bloody palm of the left hand, and a color-tinted photo of an elegant Japanese woman in a kimono.
    Compare this adjective to the others used in the example sentence (dented, dirty, scorched, bloody) to see the contrast between the kimono-wearing woman and the sniper-holding man.
  4. swag
    goods or money obtained illegally
    In fact, he never let me play with it, because as he put it, “This swag will be worth a bundle of money someday, so keep your grubby hands off it.”
    This is a synonym for "loot" (which is also mentioned in the novel), but here, "swag" with its similarity to "swagger" (which means "act in an arrogant, overly self-assured, or conceited manner") gives more power to the father's words.
  5. rile
    disturb, especially by minor irritations
    Earlier, the pony had been rubbing himself against the barbed wire around the turkey coop, but the long-necked turkeys got all riled up and pecked his legs.
  6. vital
    performing an essential function in the living body
    One of the young marines was holding a prayer book and looking toward heaven, which was a sure Hollywood sign he was about to die with a slug to a vital organ.
  7. scold
    show one's unhappiness or critical attitude
    “You know I don’t like you watching war movies,” she scolded me with her hands on her hips.
  8. notch
    an shaped indentation carved or scratched into a surface
    There was no scope on the rifle so I had to use the regular sight—the kind where you lined up a little metal ball on the far end of the barrel with the V- notch above the trigger where you pressed your cheek and eye to the cool wooden stock.
  9. fuse
    a device that can interrupt the flow of electrical current
    I really didn’t want Dad knowing what had happened because he would blow a fuse.
    The word is used figuratively because Dad is not literally an electrical device: "blow a fuse" means to get so angry that one figuratively overloads with energy that shoots out in a sudden and unexpected burst of light before getting really dark and quiet.
  10. anemic
    relating to or having a deficiency of red blood cells
    “The doctor doesn’t want you to become anemic.”
    In Greek, "an" means "without" and "haima" means "blood"--someone who is suffering from anemia does not have enough oxygen-carrying material in the blood, which often results in a lack of energy.
  11. sculpted
    cut into a desired shape
    Pizarro then held Atahualpa hostage for a ransom of gold so the Incas brought Pizarro piles of golden life-size people and animals and plants—all sculpted from solid gold as if the Incas had the Midas touch while they strolled through their fantastic cities and farms and jungles and everything they even gently brushed up against turned into pure gold.
  12. conquistador
    an adventurer
    But no one will ever again see that life-size golden world because once the conquistadors got their greedy hands on the gold they melted it down.
  13. ore
    a mineral that contains metal valuable enough to be mined
    They melted the gold ore and sent that back to Spain, and when there was no more gold Pizarro broke his promise and strangled the Inca king.
  14. scald
    burn with a hot liquid or steam
    I could tell by the leaf-size flames under the pot that it had to be scalding hot, and right away I was wondering if she was melting herself down.
  15. jabber
    talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner
    “You’ll be fine,” I jabbered about five jittery times in a row, and each time my mind echoed back, “You won’t be fine...you won’t ever be fine because you just melted your hands off!”
    Note the alliteration in "jabber" and "jittery" that emphasizes the nervous repetition.
  16. quavering
    (of the voice) quivering as from weakness or fear
    “Please...Miss Volker,” I said with my voice quavering.
  17. obituary
    a notice of someone's death
    “My twin sister used to write out the obituaries for me but her jug-headed idiot husband moved her to Florida last month. I was hoping he’d just have a spasm and drop dead and she would move in with me—but it didn’t work out that way."
    Note the irony (incongruity between what might be expected and what occurs) between Miss Volker, a former nurse, wanting her brother-in-law dead and her needing of her twin sister to help her write obituaries.
  18. motto
    a favorite saying of a sect or political group
    “In nursing school,” she said, “I was taught by the doctors that the role of medical science is to relieve human suffering, and I’ve lived by that motto all my life.”
    "Motto" comes from the Latin "muttire" which means "to mutter" and refers to any brief statement expressing a principle, goal, or ideal. Anyone can have a motto; the motto mentioned here comes from a profession and not a sect or political group.
  19. mantel
    shelf that projects from wall above fireplace
    Miss Volker stood by the fireplace mantel and took a breath so deep it straightened out her curved spine.
  20. abscond
    run away, often taking something or somebody along
    I remind the reader of the true story of the Slater 'girl' who was captured by Indians in the 1830s, knocked unconscious with a war club and scalped with a knife, but still managed to abscond with her life and survive hairlessly to live to a ripe old age beneath a wig made of curly hamster fur.
  21. gory
    accompanied by bloodshed
    At the meeting the Lord Mayor of London stepped forward and stabbed Wat in the neck, then had his head chopped off and spiked onto a tall pole as a gory lesson to all who would defy the king and revolt for equal rights.
  22. municipal
    of or relating to the government of a district
    On it were hand-stitched all the streets and houses and gardens and yard animals and businesses and municipal buildings and creeks.
    The Latin "municipium" means "town" and this can be broken up into "municeps" (citizen) and "munus" (public office) and "capere" (to take).
  23. hieroglyphic
    a writing system using picture symbols
    “Take that one,” she suggested, and pointed the scuffed tip of her hard black shoe at a large book that was decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics.
  24. asthma
    respiratory disorder characterized by wheezing
    He was a heavy breather on account of his asthma, which was why he didn’t fight in the war even though he had a military flattop haircut that looked like an airport for paper airplanes.
  25. contradict
    prove negative; show to be false
    Her slave, Paul Jennings, said he was really the one who saved the portrait, but slaves were not allowed to contradict white people.
  26. warpath
    hostile or belligerent mood
    “Mom’s gonna be on the warpath at any moment.”
  27. veer
    turn sharply; change direction abruptly
    I veered off and passed beyond Fenton’s gas station and around the town dump where hundreds of rats were picking through the trash before I circled back down to the baseball fields beside the Roosevelt Community Center to meet my friend, Bunny Huffer.
  28. cadaver
    the dead body of a human being
    They were made out of polished aluminum and seemed very sleek with a little glass window where the cadaver’s face could be viewed.
  29. cremate
    reduce to ashes
    “I’d rather be cremated and have my ashes blasted into orbit like Sputnik and go beeping around the planet for all of eternity.”
  30. reputation
    notoriety for some particular characteristic
    And it did make me think that moving out of this town as Dad wanted to do was a good idea, not because I thought the town was a Commie town but because once you got a reputation for one stupid thing it stuck with you forever.
  31. pivot
    the act of turning on an axis
    Then she turned and stormed out of the room, did a quick pivot, and stormed right back.
    A pivot is an "axis consisting of a shaft supporting something that turns"--when a person pivots, the shaft is the side of the body that stays planted while the rest turns. Compare with "swivel" in this list.
  32. enthusiasm
    a feeling of excitement
    “Sure,” I said, full of enthusiasm.
  33. trudge
    walk heavily and firmly, as when weary, or through mud
    Dad put on his orange hat and vest and we started to trudge up a tree-covered hill.
  34. swivel
    turn on a pivot
    Our heads swiveled back and forth for what seemed like an hour.
    Compare with "pivot" in this list. Here, the pivots are the necks supporting the turning heads.
  35. carnage
    the savage and excessive killing of many people
    I was kind of stunned by imagining all the bloody carnage and I slumped back onto my bed pillow when I noticed a bubbling river of blood running out my nose and across my lips.
  36. respectable
    deserving of esteem
    I had just stopped the bleeding and hid the wad of bloody tissues behind my bed when Mom came in wearing a crisply ironed summer dress and told me to put on some “ respectable” clothes.
  37. cauterize
    burn, sear, or freeze using a hot iron or electric current
    He also concluded I would need to schedule an appointment to have the inside of my nasal passages cauterized in order to burn away the number of leaky capillaries and stop the bleeding.
  38. internal
    located inward
    As soon as she mentioned money I pretended to be distracted and fortunately, in the doctor’s office, there were plenty of plastic medical models of internal organs to study.
  39. barter
    an equal exchange
    “Got a basement full of them,” he replied just as quickly, and before Mom could offer another barter he said, “I wish I didn’t have to ask you for cash, but I do.”
  40. harvest
    gather, as of natural products
    “You can replant that whole field of corn, tend to it, harvest it, and turn it into food for poor old folks.”

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