"Flowers for Algernon," Vocabulary from Progress Reports 12-15

Daniel Keyes' sweet and sad story "Flowers for Algernon" depicts the quest for perfection and the double-edged sword that is too much knowledge in an engaging, relatable story about a man and his friend the mouse.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Progress Reports 1-11, Progress Reports 12-15, Progress Reports 16-17
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Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. preliminary
    preceding or in preparation for something more important
    He wants his preliminary report to be as full as possible, since Algernon and I are the prime exhibits for his presentation.
  2. ironic
    displaying incongruity between what is expected and what is
    Ironic to find myself on the other side of the intellectual fence.
  3. clarity
    the quality of being coherent and easily understood
    I cannot control it completely yet, but sometimes when I’m busy reading or working on a problem, I get a feeling of intense clarity.
  4. docile
    willing to be taught or led or supervised or directed
    Did you think I’d remain a docile pup, wagging my tail and licking the foot that kicks me? Sure, all this has changed me and the way I think about myself. I no longer have to take the kind of crap that people have been handing me all my life.
  5. patronizing
    characteristic of those who treat others with arrogance
    Listen, the best of them have been smug and patronizing—using me to make themselves superior and secure in their own limitations. Anyone can feel intelligent beside a moron.
  6. labyrinth
    complex system of paths in which it is easy to get lost
    Up one street, and down another, through the endless labyrinth, hurling myself against the neon cage of the city.
  7. stenographer
    someone skilled in the transcription of speech
    I owe this progress report to Burt who had the bright idea that I could dictate this on a transistor tape recorder and have a public stenographer in Chicago type it up.
  8. pathology
    any deviation from a healthy or normal condition
    First there will have to be physical and mental tests to determine the causes of the pathology. There will be enough time later to talk of prognosis.
  9. deleterious
    harmful to living things
    “The results are always more significant if the patient and I are alone when the psycho-substantiation tests are performed. External distractions have a deleterious effect on the ramified scores.”
  10. affront
    a deliberately offensive act
    He took it as a personal affront and quarreled with everyone in the line of hotel command from the bellhop to the manager.
  11. maverick
    independent in behavior or thought
    We don’t know exactly what causes the type of phenylketonuria that Charlie was suffering from as a child—some unusual biochemical or genetic situation, possibly ionizing radiation or natural radiation or even a virus attack on the fetus—whatever it was resulted in a defective gene which produces a, shall we say, ‘ maverick enzyme’ that creates defective biochemical reactions.
  12. revitalize
    give new life or vigor to
    But first, we remove the damaged portions of the brain and permit the implanted brain tissue which has been chemically revitalized to produce brain proteins at a supernormal rate
  13. propound
    put forward, as of an idea
    “But Tanida himself first propounded the theory of blocking the maverick enzyme through combination, and now he points out that—”
  14. refute
    overthrow by argument, evidence, or proof
    But then how can he refute Rahajamati’s attack on this method, and Tanida’s challenge to the validity of this kind of control?
  15. inkling
    a slight suggestion or vague understanding
    It was the first inkling of the revelations that were in store for me this weekend.
  16. taunt
    harass with persistent criticism or carping
    “I didn’t know you were so close to him,” I taunted, recalling all the times Burt had complained about the professor’s narrowness and pushing.
  17. superb
    of surpassing excellence
    You’ve got a superb mind now, intelligence that can’t really be calculated, more knowledge absorbed by now than most people pick up in a long lifetime.
  18. euphemism
    an inoffensive expression substituted for an offensive one
    As Burt would put it, mocking the euphemisms of educational jargon, I’m exceptional—a democratic term used to avoid the damning labels of gifted and deprived (which used to mean bright and retarded) and as soon as exceptional begins to mean anything to anyone they’ll change it.
  19. paradoxical
    seemingly contradictory but nonetheless possibly true
    It’s paradoxical that an ordinary man like Nemur presumes to devote himself to making other people geniuses.
  20. pompous
    puffed up with vanity
    He had always been straightforward with me—more so than most of the others—but when he described the white mouse who had been given intelligence, he was as pompous and artificial as the others.
  21. gawk
    look with amazement
    I told myself they were not gawking curiosity seekers, but scientists here in search of knowledge.
  22. vacuous
    devoid of intelligence
    Photographs (I didn’t know they had been taken) were passed around and commented on, and I could see by the nods and smiles that most people there agreed with him that the “dull, vacuous facial expression” had been transformed into an "alert, intelligent appearance.”
  23. contaminate
    make impure
    Even as I try to get her out of my mind, the memories seep back from the past to contaminate the here and now.
  24. brusque
    marked by rude or peremptory shortness
    As I see him now, he is not really afraid, just withdrawing, as a bird or squirrel backs off from the brusque movements of the feeder—involuntary, instinctive.
  25. robust
    sturdy and strong in form, constitution, or construction
    Not exactly beautiful, but her blue eyes and pert snub nose gave her a catlike quality that contrasted with her robust, athletic movements.
  26. dilettante
    an amateur engaging in an activity without serious intention
    It’s better up here away from the phonies and the dilettantes.
  27. sanitary
    free from filth and pathogens
    Everything sanitary, as you can see, which is more than I can say for most barbershops in this neighborhood.
  28. adroit
    quick or skillful or adept in action or thought
    Watching him move, adroit for such a short, heavy man, I felt guilty at the deception.
  29. incoherent
    unable to express yourself clearly or fluently
    I was nervous, and I must have sounded incoherent, but it was good to hear her voice, and she sounded happy to hear from me.
  30. usurp
    seize and take control without authority
    I can’t help feeling that I’m not me. I’ve usurped his place and locked him out the way they locked me out of the bakery.
  31. undermine
    weaken or impair, especially gradually
    It will send the linguists back to India with their tape recorders, because it undermines the critical superstructure of their methodology.
  32. deterioration
    process of changing to an inferior state
    I can’t help but admire the structural linguists who have carved out for themselves a linguistic discipline based on the deterioration of written communication.
  33. listless
    lacking zest or vivacity
    He seems listless and confused, and though he still learns new problems without external rewards, his performance is peculiar.
  34. skeptical
    marked by or given to doubt
    He was doing his utmost to be cordial, but I could see by his face that he was skeptical.
  35. incompetent
    legally not qualified or sufficient
    “But you realize we had to get permission from someone in your immediate family. You were incompetent to agree to this yourself.”

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