"Dead End in Norvelt," Vocabulary from Chapters 8-14

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. punctuate
    stress or single out as important
    She raised an eyebrow to punctuate her point then walked down the hall, and I heard her descend the cellar stairs to the laundry room.
    In Latin, "punctum" means "point" and comes from the Latin verb "pungere" which means "to prick" (which can also be seen in "puncture" and "pungent"). Whether the punctuation is the raising of an eyebrow or the placement of a comma, it serves to make a point that is meant to prick one's attention.
  2. massive
    imposing in size or bulk or solidity
    She must have had her hair recently colored because it was so blue it looked like a massive hydrangea blossom.
  3. scythe
    an edge tool for cutting grass
    The hooded mask kept slipping down over my eyes and I held my scythe straight out like a lance so I didn’t run face-first into something solid.
  4. tentative
    hesitant or lacking confidence; unsettled in mind or opinion
    I pushed a button on the dashboard, which had a big D for Drive on it, and tentatively pressed down on the gas and we inched forward.
    The Latin "tentare" means "to try"--someone who is tentatively doing something is often trying it for the first time so he is unsettled and unsure.
  5. shabby
    showing signs of wear and tear
    “I like Mrs. Dubicki because that busybody Spizz gave her a ticket for having a shabby-looking house and she chased him off the property with her dead husband’s double-barreled shotgun.”
  6. vaccine
    injection of weakened or dead microbes to create antibodies
    The Pittsburgh news was on and an announcer was talking about where people could receive their second round of polio vaccine.
  7. implore
    call upon in supplication
    “You don’t have to go,” she implored with a touch of loneliness in her voice.
  8. threshold
    the entrance for passing through a room or building
    I had left the front door open, and when I saw daylight I leaped across the threshold and down the few steps.
  9. medieval
    relating to or belonging to the Middle Ages
    I grabbed the shovel handle with both hands, then closed my eyes and imagined merry-olde-England in medieval times.
  10. saunter
    walk leisurely and with no apparent aim
    After a while Mom sauntered out with a pitcher and cups to give us some cold water because it was hot and because she wanted to check up on our progress.
  11. concede
    give over
    “Okay,” she conceded, giving in to his stubbornness.
  12. swerve
    turn sharply; change direction abruptly
    The tires squealed as we turned onto the Norvelt road and about thirty seconds later I hit the brakes and we swerved crazily into the parking lot at the Huffer Funeral Parlor.
    Compare with "veer" in the list for Chapters 1-7. The verbs are synonymous, but here it's used to describe a car that's turning out of control, while "veer" was used to describe a deliberate change in path.
  13. mangle
    destroy or injure severely
    I took a deep breath and lifted my head for just long enough to see the victim’s mangled boots on display at the far end of the table.
  14. gruesome
    shockingly repellent; inspiring horror
    Somehow the tattoos were even more gruesome when they were tattooed on the inside of my mind.
    The gruesome nature of the tattoos is emphasized by the use of "tattoo" as both a noun and verb in both a literal and figurative way; but this is contrasted with the sound of the word when it's repeated.
  15. fracture
    breaking of hard tissue such as bone
    “Clearly,” I heard Miss Volker say from where the victim’s head would be, “there can be no doubt that the main cause of death is a massive skull fracture.”
  16. pauper
    a person who is very poor
    “I can keep the body in the freezer for a few days,” Mr. Huffer said evenly, “but if no one claims him then the Norvelt paupers’ fund will only pay for cremation. I’d like to give him a proper burial but no one will pay for it.”
  17. ailment
    an often persistent bodily disorder or disease
    I asked as we strolled down the aisle of instant fix-it supplies for bad stomachs, headaches, excess mucus, and other ailments.
  18. gape
    be wide open
    I’ve stitched up miles of gaping wounds and set a hundred broken bones and pulled a gallon jar full of rotten teeth—I even had to pop an eyeball back into its socket, so don’t question me.
  19. scorch
    become singed under intense heat or dry conditions
    On the tip of the wire was a tiny scorched blade.
  20. anesthetic
    a drug that causes temporary loss of bodily sensations
    “Go ahead and swab your nasal passages with a good dose of the anesthetic,” she instructed.
  21. cataract
    disease that involves the clouding of the lens of the eye
    “This one is for Mrs. Vinyl, who had cataract surgery and can’t see her own hands.”
  22. bemoan
    regret strongly
    “And in 1962,” I said, looking up from the paper and bemoaning my fate, “the longest grounding of a boy named Jack continues to go unnoticed by history.”
  23. vertebra
    one of the bony segments of the spinal column
    Kennedy had been hurled across the deck and fractured a vertebra in his back but he could still move.
  24. testify
    provide evidence for
    He danced out the door and danced down the road and was seen by many witnesses, who have all testified that he was dancing for the entire three-mile stretch from Mount Pleasant to Norvelt.
  25. soothing
    freeing from fear and anxiety
    To hasten a cure the community constructed a stage and musicians were hired to play soothing dance music so that the dancers might slowly waltz themselves back to good spiritual health.
  26. convulsive
    affected by involuntary jerky muscular contractions
    Remember our Puritan ancestors in Salem, Massachusetts, who were stricken with convulsive dancing, twitching, uncontrollable smirking, and spastic pagan gestures, which were judged to be the signs of Devilish Possession and which led to the Witch Trials where twenty citizens were put to death.
  27. epidemic
    a widespread outbreak of an infectious disease
    What curse, disease, or epidemic has he unleashed in our town?
  28. incline
    an elevated geological formation
    As he labored up the Norvelt road incline and past us I saw that he had a police badge pinned to his khaki shirt.
  29. simian
    relating to or resembling an ape
    “I don’t like sweets from that old simian sourpuss,” she replied.
  30. incredulous
    not disposed or willing to believe; unbelieving
    “You’re going to bury them after what you did to them?” I asked incredulously.
  31. tousle
    disarrange or rumple; dishevel
    “Happy birthday, son,” he said, and tousled my hair.
  32. ingrate
    a person who shows no gratitude
    “Don’t be an ingrate,” she said playfully.
  33. fanfare
    a gaudy outward display
    “It’s all yours,” he said with much fanfare, and bowed deeply as if I were the emperor of China.
  34. gloat
    dwell on with satisfaction
    He didn’t gloat, but he grinned and sang one of his favorite songs about hard work.
  35. nourish
    give sustenance to
    Fiery explosions tossed bodies through the air to bleed out and nourish the exhausted dirt.
    Another way of defining this is "to provide with food or other nutriment necessary for life and growth"--this makes the irony of the example sentence clearer: the blood of the dying bodies nourishes the earth, instead of the earth (in the form of vegetables and fruit) nourishing bodies to keep them alive.
  36. broil
    be very hot, due to hot weather or exposure to the sun
    I felt as if I were trapped inside that house, as if I couldn’t escape the broiling walls—as if my life and the life of that house were burning down together.
  37. dignity
    the quality of being worthy of esteem or respect
    But Mrs. Roosevelt called it living with dignity.
  38. perimeter
    the boundary line or area immediately inside the boundary
    The grounds were graced with raised beds of mixed bouquets, and the full perimeter of the property was edged with azaleas, which fit the house like a gilded frame fits a beautiful painting.
  39. obscene
    offensive to the mind
    And now the house has been burned to the ground by a gang of Hells Angels who have turned their obscene hatred toward our town.
  40. ember
    a hot, smoldering fragment of wood left from a fire
    I had tears in my eyes but Miss Volker looked revived, as if a few hot embers of the house were glowing within her.
    This example sentence is taking the literal and making it figurative: the embers were actually coming off the burning house, but the image of embers glowing inside someone symbolizes energy or passion.

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