"A Long Walk to Water," Vocabulary from Chapters 1-3

A harrowing tale of survival, Linda Sue Park's "A Long Walk to Water," based on a true story, is dramatic and stirring. Told as two separate stories, their eventual intersection is an amazing, touching climax.

Learn this word list that focuses on war. Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1-3, Chapters 4-8, Chapters 9-13, Chapter 14-Notes

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. aimless
    continually changing as from one address to another
    When one of them managed to kill a ground squirrel or a rabbit, a guinea hen or a grouse, the boys’ aimless play halted and there was suddenly a lot of work to do.
  2. opinion
    a personal belief or judgment
    Salva had his own opinion of how the fire should be built and how long the meat needed to cook, and so did each of the others.
  3. hunch
    round one's back by bending forward
    Some of the boys moved at once, ducking their heads and hunching over.
  4. urgent
    compelling immediate action
    “Go quickly, all of you,” the teacher said, his voice low and urgent. “Into the bush. Do you hear me? Not home. Don’t run home. They will be going into the villages. Stay away from the villages—run into the bush.”
  5. rebel
    a person who takes part in an armed insurrection
    Salva did not understand much about it, but he knew that rebels from the southern part of Sudan, where he and his family lived, were fighting against the government, which was based in the north.
    In Latin, "re" means "against" and "bellare" means "to make war." Adjectives that could be used to describe the rebels are "bellicose" ("having a ready disposition to fight") and "belligerent" ("characteristic of one eager to fight").
  6. scattered
    occurring or distributed over widely spaced and irregular intervals in time or space
    The fighting was scattered all around southern Sudan, and now the war had come to where Salva lived.
  7. scramble
    move hurriedly
    The boys scrambled to their feet. Some of them were crying.
  8. veer
    turn sharply; change direction abruptly
    Overhead, a jet plane veered away like a sleek evil bird.
    "Sleek" means "having a smooth, gleaming surface reflecting light"--this description and the act of veering don't seem to suggest evil. The simile that compares the jet plane to an evil bird focuses on the similarities between 1) the way they fly; 2) their search for prey to kill. Additionally, a sleek jet plane is not a natural sighting in a dirt-filled village, so this adds to the feeling of evil.
  9. tense
    in or of a state of physical or nervous strain
    At first, everyone stood around uncertainly, speaking in tense whispers or silent with fear.
    The Latin "tensus" is the past participle of the verb "tendere" which means "to stretch out" (which can also be seen in "extend")--here, the author stretches out the scene and fills the readers with tension by describing how the villagers are tense with fear and uncertainty about the attack, the dark, and what's going to happen next.
  10. fierce
    marked by extreme and violent energy
    Their guns were not pointed at the crowd, but even so, the soldiers seemed fierce and watchful.
  11. surrounded
    confined on all sides
    Some of the rebels then joined the back of the line; now the villagers were surrounded.
  12. separate
    discontinue an association or relation; go different ways
    The soldiers ordered them to separate into two groups—men in one group, women and children and the elderly in the other.
  13. approach
    move towards
    A soldier approached Salva and raised his gun.
  14. gleaming
    bright with a steady but subdued shining
    All he could see was the gun’s huge barrel, black and gleaming, as it moved toward his face.
  15. collapse
    break down, literally or metaphorically
    If I die now, I will never see my family again.
    Somehow, this thought strengthened him enough to keep him from collapsing in terror.
  16. mortar
    a muzzle-loading high-angle gun with a short barrel
    The village men were forced to carry supplies: guns and mortars, shells, radio equipment.
  17. protest
    express opposition through action or words
    Salva watched as one man protested that he did not want to go with the rebels. A soldier hit him in the face with the butt of a gun.
  18. restless
    worried and uneasy
    Salva tossed restlessly in the itchy hay.
  19. hazy
    filled or abounding with fog or mist
    On the far horizon, the sky was hazy from the smoke of the bombs.
  20. claim
    an assertion of a right, as to money or property
    No one, it seemed, was sure where Nuer land ended and Dinka land began, so each tribe tried to lay claim to the areas richest in water.
  21. flinch
    draw back, as with fear or pain
    Salva flinched at her glance.
  22. uncertainty
    the state of being unsure of something
    But at least he was not alone now, and that knowledge was stronger than the uncertainty about what the woman might do or say to him.
  23. artillery
    an army unit that uses big guns
    During the daytime, Salva could hear the distant booming of artillery from the fighting a few miles away.
  24. desperately
    in a state of intense distress and hopelessness
    With every shell that exploded he would think of his family, hoping they were safe, wondering desperately when he would be with them again.
    The antonym of "desperately" is "hopefully" and this can be seen more clearly in the Latin roots: "de" means "reversal" and "sperare" means "to hope" (compare with "despair" in the list for Chapters 9-13).
  25. panic
    an overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety
    Salva stared at her as panic rose inside him.

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