Persons Unknown

In a groundbreaking work of nonfiction, Truman Capote investigates the brutal murder of a small-town Kansas family and the trial of the killers.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. nary
    colloquial for 'not a' or 'not one' or 'never a'
    He wished “folks would stop yappin’ and try to understand” why he and his wife, though they lived scarcely a hundred yards from the Clutter home, had heard “ nary a nothin’”—not the slightest echo of gun thunder—of the violence taking place.
  2. raucous
    disturbing the public peace; loud and rough
    Nowadays, Garden City, which was once a rather raucous frontier town, is quite subdued.
  3. indemnity
    a sum of money paid in compensation for loss or injury
    Then, responding to questions, he said no, neither of the women had been “sexually molested,” and no, as far as was presently known, nothing had been stolen from the house, and yes, he did think it a “queer coincidence” that Mr. Clutter should have taken out a forty-thousand-dollar life-insurance policy, with double indemnity, within eight hours of his death.
  4. delineate
    show the form or outline of
    The prints, not noticeable to the naked eye, registered on film; indeed, the delineating glare of a flashbulb had revealed their presence with superb exactness.
  5. impasse
    a situation in which no progress can be made
    But the diary notation that most tantalized Dewey was unrelated to the Clutter-Rupp, Methodist-Catholic impasse.
  6. intrepid
    invulnerable to fear or intimidation
    Holcomb’s widowed postmistress, the intrepid Mrs. Myrtle Clare, who scorned her fellow townsmen as “a lily-livered lot, shaking in their boots afraid to shut their eyes,” and said of herself, “This old girl, she’s sleeping good as ever.
  7. amiss
    in an imperfect or faulty way
    Left nothing in the house amiss, left no indication they had searched for anything with the possible exception of [Clutter’s] billfold.
  8. abortive
    failing to accomplish an intended result
    Acted without a motive, if you care to discount an abortive robbery attempt, which the investigators are wont to do.
  9. affable
    diffusing warmth and friendliness
    Here, it said, wearing a kid grin, was a very personable character, clean-cut, affable, a fellow any man might trust to shave him.
  10. gouge
    make a groove in
    He could not help noticing that Dick, busy gouging under his fingernails with a fork prong, was uninterested in his dream.
  11. prude
    a person excessively concerned about propriety and decorum
    But he told the joke well, and Perry, though he was in some measure a prude, could not help laughing, as always.
  12. disquiet
    make uneasy or cause to be worried or alarmed
    The four coffins, which quite filled the small, flower-crowded parlor, were to be sealed at the funeral services—very understandably, for despite the care taken with the appearance of the victims, the effect achieved was disquieting.
  13. indignation
    a feeling of righteous anger
    “Oh, no, you don’t,” said the man, his voice thick with inebriated indignation.
  14. awry
    away from the correct or expected course
    Second, accompanied by a K.B.I. agent, Mrs. Helm had explored every room at River Valley Farm, toured the house in the expectation that she might notice something awry or absent, and she had.
  15. paltry
    contemptibly small in amount or size
    All the same, Dewey could not accept the theory that the family had been slaughtered for paltry profit—“a few dollars and a radio.”
  16. immoderate
    beyond reasonable limits
    The expert execution of the crimes was proof enough that at least one of the pair commanded an immoderate amount of cool-headed slyness, and was—must be—a person too clever to have done such a deed without calculated motive.
  17. promontory
    a natural elevation
    The car was parked on a promontory where Perry and Dick had stopped to picnic.
  18. portend
    indicate by signs
    Unlike Perry, he was not convinced that a broken mirror meant seven years’ misfortune, or that a young moon if glimpsed through glass portended evil.
  19. prolific
    intellectually productive
    Perry was not a gifted liar, or a prolific one; however, once he had told a fiction he usually stuck by it.
  20. patronize
    be a regular customer or client of
    But the case was by no means closed for the people of Finney County, and least of all for those who patronized Holcomb’s favorite meeting place, Hartman’s Cafe.
  21. bedlam
    a state of extreme confusion and disorder
    Actually, Eve never known such bedlam. It’s noisier than a bomb raid. Train whistles. Coyotes. Monsters howling the bloody night long. A horrid racket.
  22. liaison
    a means of communication between groups
    The Cowboy found for the tattooed drifters a room in the house of an uncle, undertook to improve Perry’s Spanish, and shared the benefits of his liaison with the holidaymaker from Hamburg, in whose company and at whose expense they drank and ate and bought women.
  23. listless
    lacking zest or vivacity
    The Cowboy skippered the boat; Otto sketched and fished; Perry baited hooks, daydreamed, sang, and sometimes fished; Dick did nothing—only moaned, complained of the motion, lay about sun-drugged and listless, like a lizard at siesta.
  24. accost
    approach and speak to someone aggressively or insistently
    Inez was a prostitute who had accosted Dick on the steps of the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City (the visit was part of a sightseeing tour taken to please Perry).
  25. beatitude
    a state of supreme happiness
    Still, they were remarkable photographs, and what made them so was Perry’s expression, his look of unflawed fulfillment, of beatitude, as though at last, and as in one of his dreams, a tall yellow bird had hauled him to heaven.
  26. belligerence
    hostile or warlike attitude or nature
    Then, too, the severity of Dick’s “wake-up” speech, the belligerence with which he’d proclaimed his theretofore concealed opinion of Perry’s dreams and hopes—all this, perversity being what it is, appealed to Perry, hurt and shocked him but charmed him, almost revived his former faith in the tough, the “totally masculine,” the pragmatic, the decisive Dick he’d once allowed to boss him.
  27. abscond
    run away, often taking something or somebody along
    On their last night in Acapulco, a thief had stolen the Gibson guitar— absconded with it from a waterfront cafe where he, Otto, Dick, and the Cowboy had been bidding one another a highly alcoholic goodbye.
  28. purloin
    make off with belongings of others
    But while the purloined guitar presented no ownership problem, his remaining property did.
  29. desperado
    a bold outlaw
    (And Perry could remember many another rodeo spectacle—see again his father skipping about inside a circle of spinning lassos, or his mother, with silver and turquoise bangles jangling on her wrists, trick-riding at a desperado speed that thrilled her youngest child and caused crowds in towns from Texas to Oregon to “stand up and clap.”)
  30. iota
    a tiny or scarcely detectable amount
    Whole sections of me Dad was ignorant of. Didn’t understand an iota of.
  31. balmy
    mild and pleasant
    Wearing considerably more, Perry, one balmy evening in wartime 1945, found himself inside a Honolulu tattoo parlor having a snake-and-dagger design applied to his left forearm.
  32. larceny
    the act of taking something from someone unlawfully
    They nailed me to the cross— larceny, jailbreak, car theft.
  33. substantiate
    establish or strengthen as with new evidence or facts
    Your sister substantiates this failing for as her letter progresses her judgment gives way to temper
  34. lucid
    transparently clear; easily understandable
    her thoughts are good, lucid, the products of intelligence, but it is not now an unbiased, impersonal intelligence.
  35. prerogative
    a right reserved exclusively by a person or group
    “It is almost impossible for a man who enjoys freedom with all its prerogatives, to realize what it means to be deprived of that freedom.”
  36. acquiesce
    agree or express agreement
    The previous midnight, when Dick had brought her to the room and told Perry that she was going to sleep there, Perry, though disapproving, had acquiesced, but if they imagined that their conduct stimulated him, or seemed to him anything other than a “nuisance,” they were wrong.
  37. ascetic
    someone who practices self denial as a spiritual discipline
    His suits fitted as though he had borrowed them from a stout friend, and his face, seldom suggestive of his profession, was now not at all so; it could have been that of an ascetic absorbed in occult pursuits.
  38. entourage
    the group following and attending to some important person
    But no worse than the other members of the K.B.I. entourage—Agents Duntz, Church, and Nye.
  39. posse
    a temporary police force
    Word spread, and men for miles around made up a posse.
  40. sumptuous
    rich and superior in quality
    The Dodge slowed down, and Dick gave the man a sumptuous smile.
Created on July 12, 2015 (updated September 10, 2018)

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