"Home" by Anton Chekhov

Bykovsky, a prosecutor in Russia, has a surprisingly difficult time explaining to his seven-year-old son Seryozha why smoking and stealing are wrong. Read the full text here.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. expostulate
    reason with for the purpose of dissuasion
    By the way, Yevgeny Petrovitch, I should like to ask you to speak to Seryozha. To-day, and the day before yesterday, I have noticed that he is smoking. When I began to expostulate with him, he put his fingers in his ears as usual, and sang loudly to drown my voice.
    In this English translation of the Russian short story, the verb "expostulate" has a formal tone that connects to the main character's occupation as a prosecutor. However, it is the wrong tone to use on a seven-year-old and this misstep by the governess is emphasized by the boy's refusal to listen and the father's laughter at the report.
  2. pernicious
    exceedingly harmful
    You think it is not important, but at his age smoking is a bad and pernicious habit, and bad habits ought to be eradicated in the beginning.
    The story is set in 19th century Russia when "not a single teacher or father knew exactly what was the harm or sinfulness of smoking." Thus, the words "pernicious" and "eradicate" ("destroy completely, as if down to the roots") are intended to make fun of the governess for overreacting.
  3. caricature
    a representation of a person exaggerated for comic effect
    He pictured his Seryozha with a huge cigar, a yard long, in the midst of clouds of tobacco smoke, and this caricature made him smile; at the same time, the grave, troubled face of the governess called up memories of the long past, half-forgotten time when smoking aroused in his teachers and parents a strange, not quite intelligible horror.
  4. scruple
    hesitate on moral grounds
    Even very intelligent people did not scruple to wage war on a vice which they did not understand.
  5. appalled
    struck with fear, dread, or consternation
    Yevgeny Petrovitch remembered the head-master of the high school, a very cultured and good-natured old man, who was so appalled when he found a high-school boy with a cigarette in his mouth that he turned pale, immediately summoned an emergency committee of the teachers, and sentenced the sinner to expulsion.
    The image of the headmaster turning pale is emphasized by the Latin root of the adjective "appalled": "palir" means "to grow pale." The emotion that possibly caused the physical reaction is consternation ("sudden disappointment"); he could also have feared that the cigarette-smoking teenager could either cause a literal fire or get him fired for allowing this to happen under his watch.
  6. subsequent
    following in time or order
    The prosecutor remembered two or three boys who had been expelled and their subsequent life, and could not help thinking that very often the punishment did a great deal more harm than the crime itself.
  7. inured
    made tough by habitual exposure
    The living organism has the power of rapidly adapting itself, growing accustomed and inured to any atmosphere whatever, otherwise man would be bound to feel at every moment what an irrational basis there often is underlying his rational activity, and how little of established truth and certainty there is even in work so responsible and so terrible in its effects as that of the teacher, of the lawyer, of the writer.
  8. discursive
    tending to cover a wide range of subjects
    And such light and discursive thoughts as visit the brain only when it is weary and resting began straying through Yevgeny Petrovitch's head; there is no telling whence and why they come, they do not remain long in the mind, but seem to glide over its surface without sinking deeply into it.
  9. solace
    comfort offered to one who is disappointed or miserable
    For people who are forced for whole hours, and even days, to think by routine in one direction, such free private thinking affords a kind of comfort, an agreeable solace.
  10. reverie
    absentminded dreaming while awake
    The pacing of the man overhead who, to judge from his nervous step, was thinking of something harassing, or was suffering from toothache, and the monotonous scales gave the stillness of the evening a drowsiness that disposed to lazy reveries.
  11. perplexity
    trouble or confusion resulting from complexity
    "What have I done to you?" he asked in perplexity, blinking.
  12. languid
    lacking spirit or liveliness
    Languidly linking one phrase on to another and imitating the language of the nursery, Bykovsky tried to explain to his son the meaning of property.
  13. consumption
    a lung disease involving progressive wasting of the body
    Your chest is weak, you haven't reached your full strength yet, and smoking leads to consumption and other illness in weak people. Uncle Ignat died of consumption, you know. If he hadn't smoked, perhaps he would have lived till now.
  14. pensive
    deeply or seriously thoughtful
    Seryozha looked pensively at the lamp, touched the lamp-shade with his finger, and heaved a sigh.
    The Latin "pendere" means "to weigh"--this connects to the heaviness of pensive thinking, which contrasts with the wandering lightness of reveries. A seven-year-old should be more disposed toward reveries than pensiveness, but at the moment, Seryozha is thinking about death because his father had mentioned it to scare him from smoking.
  15. plucky
    showing courage
    Every urchin who was caught smoking was thrashed. The cowardly and faint-hearted did actually give up smoking, any who were somewhat more plucky and intelligent, after the thrashing took to carrying tobacco in the legs of their boots, and smoking in the barn.
  16. distinction
    high status importance owing to marked superiority
    My mother used to give me money and sweets not to smoke. Now that method is looked upon as worthless and immoral. The modern teacher, taking his stand on logic, tries to make the child form good principles, not from fear, nor from desire for distinction or reward, but consciously.
  17. forestall
    keep from happening or arising; make impossible
    And it struck Yevgeny Petrovitch as strange and absurd that he, an experienced advocate, who spent half his life in the practice of reducing people to silence, forestalling what they had to say, and punishing them, was completely at a loss and did not know what to say to the boy.
  18. wretched
    of very poor quality or condition
    But in school and in court, of course, all these wretched questions are far more simply settled than at home; here one has to do with people whom one loves beyond everything, and love is exacting and complicates the question.
    The given definition usually applies to something concrete, but here, the adjective "wretched" modifies the abstract noun "questions" (specifically, those that are concerned with how to punish a child you love for doing something you don't really believe is wrong). Although the nature of the questions can be criticized, "wretched" is used to emphasize the frustration of the father.
  19. peculiar
    unique or specific to a person or thing or category
    From daily observation of his son the prosecutor had become convinced that children, like savages, have their own artistic standpoints and requirements peculiar to them, beyond the grasp of grown-up people.
    The adjective "peculiar" (which also means "markedly different from the usual") and the comparison of children to savages emphasize the distance between the father and his son. Both also poke fun at the artistic skill of Seryozha.
  20. invariably
    without change, in every case
    To his mind sound was closely connected with form and colour, so that when he painted letters he invariably painted the letter L yellow, M red, A black, and so on.
    This mixing of the senses is called synesthesia, which is almost the opposite of anesthesia, when some or all senses are disabled. With this observation of how Seryozha varies from most people, especially grown-ups, Yevgeny Petrovitch is more at a loss as to how to speak to his young son.
  21. devise
    come up with after a mental effort
    A nice task to devise a punishment for him!
  22. subtlety
    a fine difference in meaning, opinion, or attitude
    The more developed a man is, the more he reflects and gives himself up to subtleties, the more undecided and scrupulous he becomes, and the more timidity he shows in taking action.
  23. ingenious
    showing inventiveness and skill
    Seryozha was very fond of this improvisation, and the prosecutor noticed that the simpler and the less ingenious the plot, the stronger the impression it made on the child.
  24. rigmarole
    a set of confused and meaningless statements
    He spun out a long rigmarole, and ended like this
  25. infirm
    lacking bodily or muscular strength or vitality
    The emperor's son fell ill with consumption through smoking, and died when he was twenty. His infirm and sick old father was left without anyone to help him. There was no one to govern the kingdom and defend the palace. Enemies came, killed the old man, and destroyed the palace, and now there are neither cherries, nor birds, nor little bells in the garden...
  26. naive
    marked by or showing unaffected simplicity
    This ending struck Yevgeny Petrovitch as absurd and naïve, but the whole story made an intense impression on Seryozha.
  27. mournfulness
    a state of gloomy sorrow
    Again his eyes were clouded by mournfulness and something like fear; for a minute he looked pensively at the dark window, shuddered, and said, in a sinking voice: "I am not going to smoke any more..."
  28. embellishment
    elaboration of an interpretation with decorative detail
    Why must morality and truth never be offered in their crude form, but only with embellishments, sweetened and gilded like pills?
  29. delusion
    deception by creating illusory ideas
    There are many deceptions and delusions in nature that serve a purpose.
  30. intimate
    having or fostering a friendly and informal atmosphere
    He set to work, but lazy, intimate thoughts still strayed through his mind for a good while.
    "Intimate" also means "marked by close acquaintance, association, or familiarity"--both definitions describe Yevgeny Petrovitch's thoughts of home, his son, and everything that their most recent encounter brought up. The structure of the example sentence makes "intimate thoughts" the opposite of work, which for a prosecutor, would be less personal and more formally focused on specific cases and laws.

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