Achilles Greek warrior and leader in the Trojan War; hero in Homer's Iliad who temporarily refuses to fight.
acquiesce to agree or consent quietly, without protest, but without enthusiasm.
acrimonious bitter and caustic in temper, manner, or speech.
affably pleasantly; in a friendly manner.
ambivalence simultaneous conflicting feelings toward a person or thing.
Anabaptist any member of a radical sixteenth-century sect of the Reformation originating in Switzerland.
anathema a thing or person accursed or damned; detested.
apocalyptic here, refers to ultimate destruction; the end of the world.
apoplexy a cerebral accident or stroke; a condition in any organ of severe hemorrhage or infarction.
arduous difficult to do; laborious.
assuage to lessen (pain or distress); to allay; to pacify.
AWOL Absent Without Official Leave.
bemused plunged in thought; preoccupied.
Billy Petrolle a contending American lightweight prizefighter (1905–1983) in the 1930s.
black market a place or system for selling goods illegally.
C.I.D. The initials stand for Central Intelligence Division. The irony is that the C.I.D. representatives in the novel are far from intelligent, suggesting the oxymoron (a combination of contradictory terms) "military intelligence."
cacophony harsh, jarring sound; dissonance.
cajole to coax with flattery or insincere talk.
cajolery coaxing with flattery or insincere talk.
Capisci? (Italian) "Do you understand?" (Note: Other Italian phrases in the chapter are translatable by context or through Yossarian's response.)
capricious tending to change abruptly and without apparent reason; erratic.
cara mio (Italian) "my dear."
carabinieri Italian police.
carnal delights in or of the flesh; bodily or sexual pleasures.
chagrin a feeling of embarrassment or annoyance because one has failed or been disappointed; mortification.
debauch to lead astray morally; to corrupt or deprave.
deferential yielding in opinion, judgment, or wishes; showing respect.
déjà vu (French) "already seen"; a feeling that one has been in a place or had a particular experience before.
derisive ridiculing; laughing at with contempt or scorn.
desiccated completely dried; preserved by drying.
didactic used or intended for teaching or instruction.
diffident lacking self-confidence; timid; shy.
dissuade to advise against; to convince someone not to do something.
dog tags metal identification pendants worn in duplicate and resembling dogs' identification tags; in addition to other information, they include blood type.
Donald Duck a cartoon character whose nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) are energetic but relatively ingenuous little scamps.
dose of clap a case of gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease.
echelon a subdivision of a military force according to rank, position or function.
enervating depriving of strength, force or vigor.
enigma a perplexing, usually ambiguous statement; a riddle.
ersatz substitute or synthetic; artificial.
erudite learned; scholarly; having or showing a wide knowledge.
ethereal of or like the ether or upper regions of space; light; airy; unearthly.
Euripedes (480–406 b.c.) tragedian of classical Athens. The highly educated Clevinger would be familiar with him.
excoriate to strip, scratch, or rub off the skin; to chafe.
exophthalmic eyes abnormal protrusion of the eyeballs, caused by various disorders.
F.O.B. a commercial term standing for "free on board"; without charge to the buyer for placing goods on board a carrier at the point of shipment.
fastidious very critical or discriminating; refined in too dainty a way.
fetid having a bad smell, as of decay; putrid.
flaccid hanging in loose folds or wrinkles; flabby.
flak the fire from antiaircraft guns.
a fortiori (Latin) "for a stronger [reason]"; said of a conclusion that follows, with even stronger logical necessity, one already accepted.
Four-F a selective service designation for individuals unfit for the military.
furtive stealthy; sneaky; surreptitious.
gangrene decay of body tissue when the blood supply is obstructed by injury or disease.
GI Government Issue, referring to all Army clothing, weapons, other supplies, and, eventually, any individual soldier.
G-men government men; agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
goldbrick to shirk one's duty through fakery; to malinger.
grazie, grazie (Italian) "thank you, thank you."
gullible easily cheated or tricked; credulous.
halvah a Turkish confection consisting of crushed sesame seeds, nuts and honey.
Hapsburg a noble German family furnishing sovereigns to Australia (1278–1918) and to Spain (1516–1700). Here, there is an ironic reference to their credit rating.
I.P. Initial Point: the place at which the squadron begins its actual run on the target.
ignominy loss of one's reputation; shame and dishonor.
incorrigible can not be corrected or improved; set in bad habits.
inexorable cannot be moved or influenced by persuasion; unrelenting.
insipid without flavor; not exciting; dull; lifeless.
insouciant calm and untroubled; carefree; indifferent.
invidiously inciting ill will, odium, or envy.
irascible easily angered; quick-tempered.
jamais vu and presque vu (French) "never seen" and "almost seen"; variations of déjà vu.
KP kitchen police; an assignment, usually temporary, to work in the mess-hall kitchen.
laconic brief or terse in speech or expression.
languid without vigor or vitality.
languorous lacking vigor or vitality.
libidinous full of or characterized by lust.
lithe flexible; supple; limber.
Luftwaffe here, Air Force of Nazi Germany.
M.P. military police.
macabre literally, dance of death; grim; horrible; gruesome.
Mae West inflatable life jacket for use by aviators downed at sea; named after a shapely movie actress of the 1930s and 1940s.
Mais c'est la guerre (French) "But such is war."
marchese an Italian nobleman, ranking above a count but below a prince.
Marrakech a prominent city in, and former capital of, Morocco, in northwestern Africa.
medulla oblongata (Latin) the widening continuation of the spinal cord, forming the lower part of the brain and controlling respiration as well as other bodily functions.
Messerschmitt a german fighter plane during World War II, manufactured by Willy Messerschmitt (1898–1978).
milk run a mission so easy and safe that it's compared to the daily delivery of milk.
Miniver Cheevy title character in a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935).
motley here, composed of many different or clashing elements — Nately and his friends form a "motley rescue party."
moue (French) "a pouting grimace"; a wry face.
obsequious showing too great a willingness to serve or obey; fawning.
obstreperous noisy; boisterous; unruly.
obtuse not sharp; slow to understand or perceive.
Old Blood and Guts nickname for General George Smith Patton (1885–1945), commander of the Seventh and Third Armies during World War II; the comparison is sardonic.
ontology the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being or reality.
oscillate to swing or move regularly back and forth.
Où sont les Neigedens d'antan The well-known phrase, from the French poet François Villon (1431–1463) actually is, où sont les neiges d'antan ("where are the snows of yesteryear"). Yossarian alters the fourth word to match his pun on the plural "Snowdens."
Parlez en anglais . . . Je ne parle pas français "Speak English . . . I don't speak French."
perchè (Italian) "why" or "because."
pernicious causing great injury, destruction, or ruin.
Piltdown Man One of the great hoaxes of the twentieth century, the Piltdown man supposedly was an early species of modern man postulated from bones found near Piltdown (Sussex, England) around 1911 but exposed as a forgery in 1953.
prolix so wordy as to be tiresome; verbose.
pugnacious eager and ready to fight; quarrelsome; combative.
PX Post Exchange; a store or stores on military bases offering merchandise at reduced prices for service personnel.
Q.E.D. abbreviation for the Latin quod erat demonstrandum, meaning "which was to be demonstrated or proven," a phrase used in mathematics.
Raskolnikov Clevinger compares Yossarian to the central character in Fyodor Dostoyevski's novel Crime and Punishment (1866), who maintains, at least for a time, that the end justifies the means.
recant to withdraw or renounce beliefs or statements formerly held.
requisition a formal written order, request, or application for equipment.
reticent habitually silent or uncommunicative.
ruefully regretfully; feeling or showing remorse.
sarcophagus any-stone coffin, especially one on display, as in a monumental tomb.
sardonic disdainfully or bitterly sarcastic and ironic.
Saturnalia here, a period or occasion of unrestrained, often orgiastic, revelry.
savoir-faire (French) "to know [how] to do"; the ability to say or do the right thing.
sedulous working hard and steadily; diligent.
'sprit de corps (French, esprit de corps) "spirit of the corps or group"; an attitude of enthusiasm and devotion among members of a group for each other, the group, and its cause.
stolid having or showing little or no emotion or sensitivity.
strafe to attack ground positions or troops with machine-gun fire from low-flying planes.
sulfanilamide a sulfur compound used in treatment of various bacterial infections.
tepid barely or moderately warm; lukewarm.
terse concise; free of superfluous words.
torpid sluggish; slow and dull; lethargic; apathetic.
Tu sei un pazzo imbecille! (Italian) "You are a crazy idiot!"
U.S.O. The United Service Organizations provide entertainment and recreation for the armed forces. During World War II, they sponsored numerous appearances of celebrities to entertain the troops.
ubiquitous everywhere at the same time; omnipresent.
ululating moaning or lamenting loudly.
unctuous oily or greasy; characterized by a smug, smooth pretense.
vexation a cause of annoyance or distress.
V-mail Victory-mail; a postal service during World War II, to or from the armed forces, in which letters were reduced to microfilm, to conserve shipping space, and enlarged and printed for delivery.
WAC The Women's Army Corps of the U.S. Army, formed during World War II, was designed to relieve men of certain clerical tasks so that more of them could go to battle.
Washington Irving American author (1783–1859), best known for short stories such as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle."
"what's good for the syndicate is good for the country" Heller's satirical twist on Charles Erwin Wilson's classic capitalistic statement to the Senate Armed Forces Committee (1952): "What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what's good for General Motors is good for the country."
wraith ghost; the spectral figure of a person seen as a premonition of death.