John Steinbeck Glossary

aloof distant in sympathy, interest, etc.; reserved and cool. (Of Mice and Men)

Auburn a city about 35 miles northeast of Sacramento, California. (Of Mice and Men)

babbitt a soft white metal of tin, lead, copper, and antimony in various proportions, used to reduce friction as in bearings. (The Grapes of Wrath)

bandanna a large, colored handkerchief, usually with a figure or pattern. (The Grapes of Wrath)

barbarians people regarded as primitive, savage, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

belligerently in a hostile or quarrelsome manner. (The Grapes of Wrath)

bemused plunged in thought; preoccupied. (Of Mice and Men)

bindle [Slang] a bundle, as of bedding, carried by a hobo. (Of Mice and Men)

boil an inflamed, painful, pus-filled swelling on the skin, caused by localized infection. (The Grapes of Wrath)

bolls the roundish seed pods of a plant, especially of cotton or flax. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Bolshevicky here refers a member of the Bolshevik party, a majority faction (Bolsheviki) of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party, which formed the Communist Party after seizing power in the 1917 Revolution. (The Grapes of Wrath)

booby hatch [Slang] an institution for the mentally ill. (Of Mice and Men)

boxcars fully enclosed railroad freight cars. (The Grapes of Wrath)

bucking grain bags throwing heavy burlap bags of grain into a truck or wagon. (Of Mice and Men)

California civil code a book of civil law for the state of California. (Of Mice and Men)

carrying charges the costs associated with property ownership, as taxes, upkeep, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

cat house [Slang] a house of prostitution. (Of Mice and Men)

cat slang for Caterpillar: trademark for a tractor equipped on each side with a continuous roller belt over cogged wheels, for moving over rough or muddy ground. (The Grapes of Wrath)

cat-walk a narrow, elevated walk or platform, as one along the edge of a bridge or over the engine room of a ship. (The Grapes of Wrath)

chambray a smooth fabric of cotton, made by weaving white or unbleached threads across a colored warp: used for dresses, shirts, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Cherokee a member of a North American Indian people formerly inhabiting a large area of the south Allegheny Mountains, now in Oklahoma and North Carolina. (The Grapes of Wrath)

clout power or influence. (The Grapes of Wrath)

con-rod bearing a reciprocating rod connecting two or more moving parts of a machine, as the crankshaft and a piston of an automobile. (The Grapes of Wrath)

'coons short for "raccoons." (Of Mice and Men)

cord any force acting as a tie or bond. (The Grapes of Wrath)

coroner a public officer whose chief duty is to determine the causes of any deaths not obviously due to natural causes. (The Grapes of Wrath)

corrugated iron sheet iron or steel with parallel grooves and ridges to give it added strength in construction. (The Grapes of Wrath)

cottonwood a rapidly growing lowland tree. (The Grapes of Wrath)

coupe a closed, two-door automobile. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Cracker Jack trademark for a confection of sweet, glazed popcorn and peanuts. (The Grapes of Wrath)

crags steep, rugged rocks that rise above others or project from a rock mass. (The Grapes of Wrath)

croppers sharecroppers. (The Grapes of Wrath)

croquet an outdoor game in which the players use mallets to drive a wooden ball through a series of hoops placed in the ground. (The Grapes of Wrath)

cultivators implements or machines for loosening the earth and destroying weeds around growing plants. (The Grapes of Wrath)

culvert a pipe-like construction of stone, concrete, or metal, that passes under a road, railroad track, footpath, or through an embankment.  (The Grapes of Wrath)

cynically in a manner that indicates a belief that people are motivated in all their actions only by selfishness. (The Grapes of Wrath)

denunciation a public accusation or strong condemnation of someone or something. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Depression the period of economic depression which began in 1929 and lasted through most of the 1930s. (The Grapes of Wrath)

derision contempt or ridicule. (Of Mice and Men)

derogatory disparaging; belittling. (Of Mice and Men)

diesel a type of internal-combustion engine that burns fuel oil. (The Grapes of Wrath)

disconsolately so unhappy that nothing will comfort; inconsolable; dejected. (The Grapes of Wrath)

dispossessed deprived of the possession of something, especially land, a house, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

dogs slang term for feet. (The Grapes of Wrath)

drawers underpants with either short or long legs. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Dutch-oven a metal container for roasting meats, with an open side placed so that it is toward the fire. (The Grapes of Wrath)

eddied moved with a circular motion against the main current. (The Grapes of Wrath)

embalming the process of treating a dead body with various chemicals, usually after removing the viscera, to keep it from decaying rapidly. (The Grapes of Wrath)

epaulets shoulder ornaments for certain uniforms, especially military uniforms. (The Grapes of Wrath)

euchre a card game. (Of Mice and Men)

exhortation a plea or sermon urging or warning people to do what is required. (The Grapes of Wrath)

fallow land plowed but not seeded for one or more growing seasons, to kill weeds, make the soil richer, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

feral untamed; wild. (The Grapes of Wrath)

ferment to excite; agitate. (The Grapes of Wrath)

fetid having a bad smell, as of decay. (The Grapes of Wrath)

flagged sent (a message) by signaling. (The Grapes of Wrath)

four-taloned Jackson fork a hay fork with four prongs, for lifting large amounts of hay. (Of Mice and Men)

foxtails plants with cylindrical spikes bearing spikelets interspersed with stiff bristles. (The Grapes of Wrath)

freshets a sudden overflowing of a stream because of melting snow or heavy rain. (The Grapes of Wrath)

gaunt thin and bony. (The Grapes of Wrath)

gelding a castrated male horse. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Geronimo (c. 1829@nd1909), Apache Indian chief. (The Grapes of Wrath)

gingham a yarn-dyed cotton cloth, usually woven in stripes, checks, or plaids. (The Grapes of Wrath)

graft the act of taking advantage of one's position to gain items such as money and property dishonestly, as in politics. (The Grapes of Wrath)

graybacks [Slang] lice. (Of Mice and Men)

hackles the hairs on a dog's neck and back that bristle, as when the dog is ready to fight. (The Grapes of Wrath)

hams a) the backs of the thighs; b) the thighs and buttocks together. (The Grapes of Wrath)

handbill a small printed notice or advertisement to be passed out by hand. (The Grapes of Wrath)

harrows frames with spikes or sharp-edged disks, drawn by a horse or tractor and used for breaking up and leveling plowed ground, covering seeds, rooting up weeds, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

haycocks small, conical heaps of hay drying in a field. (The Grapes of Wrath)

head of wild oats the uppermost part of a plant's foliage. (The Grapes of Wrath)

heliograph a permanent image formed on a glass plate by an early photographic process. (The Grapes of Wrath)

heron any of various wading birds with a long neck, long legs, and a long, tapered bill, living along marshes and river banks. (Of Mice and Men)

"he's eatin' raw eggs" refers to the notion that eating raw eggs increases sexual performance. (Of Mice and Men)

hobnailed describing boots or heavy shoes with short, broad-headed nails in the soles. (The Grapes of Wrath)

hoosegow [Slang] jail. (Of Mice and Men)

Hooverville any of the encampments of displaced persons especially prevalent during the 1930's; "Hoover" is a reference to the President of the United States at the time, Herbert Hoover. (The Grapes of Wrath)

"in the pitcher" "in the picture;" here, meaning in the movies. (Of Mice and Men)

in the ring in the sport or profession of boxing. (Of Mice and Men)

intermittent stopping and starting at intervals. (The Grapes of Wrath)

J.P. Morgan (1867@nd1943) U.S. financier; known as "Jack," to distinguish from his better-known father, J.P. "Pierpont" Morgan. (The Grapes of Wrath)

jack [old slang] money. (The Grapes of Wrath)

jack-pin a metal or wooden pin used to fasten ropes to a ship. (Of Mice and Men)

jailbait [Slang] a young woman, considered a potential sexual partner, who has not reached the age of consent. (Of Mice and Men)

jalopy [slang] an old, ramshackle automobile. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Jefferson, Thomas (1743@nd1826), American statesman, third president of the United States (1801@nd1809), drew up the Declaration of Independence. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Jehovites members of a proselytizing Christian sect founded by Charles T. Russell (1852@nd1916). (The Grapes of Wrath)

jerk-line skinner the main driver of a mule team, who handles the reins (jerk-line). (Of Mice and Men)

jimson weed a poisonous annual weed. (The Grapes of Wrath)

juncture a point or line of joining or connection. (Of Mice and Men)

kerosene lamps lamps that burn kerosene, a thin oil distilled from petroleum or shale oil. (The Grapes of Wrath)

kick off die. (Of Mice and Men)

lemon [slang] something, especially a manufactured article, that is defective or imperfect. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich (1870@nd1924), Russian leader of the Communist revolution of 1917, premier of the U.S.S.R. (1917@nd1924). (The Grapes of Wrath)

levee an embankment built alongside a river to prevent high water from flooding bordering land. (The Grapes of Wrath)

lifer [slang] a person sentenced to imprisonment for life. (The Grapes of Wrath)

lodge a local chapter of a fraternal organization. (The Grapes of Wrath)

lynchin' to murder (an accused person) by mob action and without lawful trial, as by hanging. (The Grapes of Wrath)

mallet a long-handled hammer with a cylindrical wooden head, used in playing croquet. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Marx, Karl (Heinrich) (1818@nd1883), German social philosopher and economist, in London after 1850, founder of modern socialism. (The Grapes of Wrath)

McAlester State Penitentiary near McAlester, Oklahoma. (The Grapes of Wrath)

meager of poor quality or small amount; not full or rich. (Of Mice and Men)

meerschaum a soft, claylike, heat-resistant mineral used for tobacco pipes. (The Grapes of Wrath)

meetin' an assembly or place of assembly for worship. (The Grapes of Wrath)

migrant a farm laborer who moves from place to place to harvest seasonal crops. (The Grapes of Wrath)

morosely sullenly; gloomily. (Of Mice and Men)

Mother Hubbard a full loose gown for women. (The Grapes of Wrath)

mottled marked with blotches, streaks, and spots of different colors or shades. (Of Mice and Men)

mule a lounging slipper that does not cover the heel. (Of Mice and Men)

muslin any of various strong, often sheer cotton cloths of plain weave; especially, a heavy variety used for sheets, pillowcases, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

nail keg a barrel for holding nails. (Of Mice and Men)

nestin' to place or settle; in or as in a nest. (The Grapes of Wrath)

newsreel a short motion picture of recent news events, shown as part of the program in motion picture theaters. (The Grapes of Wrath)

oat beard a hairy outgrowth on the head of certain grains and grasses. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Okie a migratory agricultural worker, forced to migrate from Oklahoma or other areas of the Great Plains because of drought and farm foreclosure in the 1930s. (The Grapes of Wrath)

"on the wheeler's butt" on the rump of the wheel horse, the horse harnessed nearest the front wheels of a vehicle. (Of Mice and Men)

"on-relief" aid in the form of goods or money given, as by a government agency, to persons unable to support themselves. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Paine, Thomas (1737@nd1809), American Revolutionary patriot, writer, and political theoretician, born in England. (The Grapes of Wrath)

panhandle a strip of land projecting like the handle of a pan. Here refers to the western extension of Oklahoma. (The Grapes of Wrath)

pauper any person who is extremely poor. (The Grapes of Wrath)

pellagra a chronic disease caused by a deficiency of nicotinic acid in the diet and characterized by gastrointestinal disturbances, skin eruptions, and mental disorders. (The Grapes of Wrath)

perplexity the condition of being perplexed; bewilderment; confusion. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Pilgrim's Progress a religious allegory by John Bunyan (1678). (The Grapes of Wrath)

pone cornbread in the form of small, oval loaves. (The Grapes of Wrath)

premium an additional amount paid or charged. (The Grapes of Wrath)

prodigal here refers to the wastrel son in biblical scripture who was welcomed back warmly on his homecoming in repentance (Luke 15:11-32). (The Grapes of Wrath)

proprietor one who owns and operates a business establishment. (The Grapes of Wrath)

pugnacious eager and ready to fight; quarrelsome; combative. (Of Mice and Men)

pulp magazine a magazine printed on rough, inferior paper stock made from wood pulp, usually containing sensational stories of love, crime. (Of Mice and Men)

Purty Boy Floyd infamous Depression-era bank robber; known for his kindness to poor people. (The Grapes of Wrath)

pustules small elevations of the skin containing pus. (The Grapes of Wrath)

putrescence the state or condition of something that is decomposing or rotting. (The Grapes of Wrath)

quarantine any isolation or restriction on travel or passage imposed to keep contagious diseases, insect pests, and so on from spreading. (The Grapes of Wrath)

"rabbits in" [Slang] jumps in. (Of Mice and Men)

rakishly dashingly; jauntily. (The Grapes of Wrath)

raptly with a completely absorbed or engrossed look. (Of Mice and Men)

recumbent biologically designating a part that leans or lies upon some other part or surface. (Of Mice and Men)

red agitators political radicals or revolutionaries, especially applied to Communists, who stir up people in support of a cause. (The Grapes of Wrath)

repel to drive or force back; hold or ward off. (The Grapes of Wrath)

reprehensible deserving to be rebuked or scolded. (Of Mice and Men)

ringer a horseshoe thrown so that it encircles the peg. (Of Mice and Men)

"roll your hoop" a reference to a child's game. Candy is saying Curley's wife is just a child. (Of Mice and Men)

sacking a cheap, coarse cloth woven of flax, hemp, or jute. (Of Mice and Men)

Sacramento capital of California. (Of Mice and Men)

Salinas city in west central California, near Monterey. (Of Mice and Men)

Salinas River a river that flows through Soledad and into Monterey Bay. (Of Mice and Men)

salts refers here to smelling salts; an aromatic mixture, used as an inhalant in relieving faintness, headaches, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Salvation Army an international organization for religious and philanthropic purposes among the very poor. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Sam Browne belt a military officer's belt with a diagonal strap across the right shoulder, designed to carry the weight of a pistol or sword. (The Grapes of Wrath)

San Quentin a state prison, now closed, in the harbor of San Francisco. (Of Mice and Men)

self-abasement a humbling or abasement of oneself. (The Grapes of Wrath)

serfs persons in feudal servitude, bound to a master's land and transferred with it to a new owner. (The Grapes of Wrath)

service clubs clubs, such as Rotary and Kiwanis, organized to provide certain services for their members and to promote the community welfare. (The Grapes of Wrath)

servile humbly yielding or submissive. (The Grapes of Wrath)

"she got the eye" said of Curley's wife, meaning that she flirts and is interested in men other than her husband. (Of Mice and Men)

shim a thin, usually wedge-shaped piece of wood, metal, or stone used for filling space, leveling, and so on, as in masonry. (The Grapes of Wrath)

shirtwaist a woman's blouse or bodice tailored more or less like a shirt. (The Grapes of Wrath)

shuck to remove a shell, pod, or husk. (The Grapes of Wrath)

side-meat meat from the side of a pig; specifically, bacon or salt pork. (The Grapes of Wrath)

sidled moved sideways, especially in a shy or stealthy manner. (The Grapes of Wrath)

signet ring a finger ring containing a seal, often in the form of an initial or monogram. (The Grapes of Wrath)

single-action Colt a type of revolver invented by American Samuel Colt (1814@nd1862) @md the hammer must be cocked by hand before each shot. (The Grapes of Wrath)

singletree a wooden bar swung at the center from a hitch on a plow, wagon, and so on, and hooked at either end to the traces of a horse's harness. (The Grapes of Wrath)

skinner [Informal] a (mule) driver. (Of Mice and Men)

skitters slang term for diarrhea. (The Grapes of Wrath)

slang past tense of "sling," meaning to cast out; in this case, give birth to. (Of Mice and Men)

slough get rid of; in this case, to fire. (Of Mice and Men)

Soledad a coastal California city about 130 miles south of San Francisco. (Of Mice and Men)

spam trademark for a kind of canned luncheon meat made from pieces of seasoned pork and ham pressed into a loaf. (The Grapes of Wrath)

speaking in tongues ecstatic or apparently ecstatic utterance of usually unintelligible speechlike sounds, as in a religious assembly, viewed by some as a manifestation of deep religious experience. (The Grapes of Wrath)

squatters persons who settle on public or unoccupied land. (The Grapes of Wrath)

St. Louis Fair the World's Fair of 1900 held in St. Louis, Missouri. The World's Fair is an exposition at which arts, crafts, industrial, and agricultural products of various countries of the world are on display. (The Grapes of Wrath)

stable buck reference to Crooks, who is responsible for taking care of the horses. (Of Mice and Men)

stake a share or interest, as in property, a person, or a business venture. (Of Mice and Men)

stereopticon a kind of slide projector designed to allow one view to fade out while the next is fading in. (The Grapes of Wrath)

stir-bugs [slang] prison inmates. (The Grapes of Wrath)

straw bosses supervisors who have little or no authority to support their orders. (The Grapes of Wrath)

strike a concerted refusal by employees to go on working in an attempt to force an employer to grant certain demands, as for higher wages, better working conditions, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

strikebreaking the act of one who attempts to break up a strike, often by intimidating striking workers. (The Grapes of Wrath)

swamper here, a general handyman and person responsible for cleaning out the barn. (Of Mice and Men)

sweat-band a band, as of leather, inside a hat to protect the hat against damage from sweat. (Of Mice and Men)

syphilis an infectious venereal disease usually transmitted by sexual intercourse or acquired congenitally. (The Grapes of Wrath)

tappet a sliding rod in an engine or machine moved by intermittent contact with a cam and used to move another part, as a valve. (The Grapes of Wrath)

tarpaulin a waterproof sheet spread over something to protect it from getting wet. (The Grapes of Wrath)

tart a promiscuous woman. (Of Mice and Men)

Tehachapi mountain just east of Bakersfield. (The Grapes of Wrath)

temple dancer a dancer known for delicate hand movements. (Of Mice and Men)

tenant a person who farms land owned by another and pays rent in cash or in a share of the crops. (The Grapes of Wrath)

tick the cloth case or covering that is filled with cotton, feathers, hair, etc. to form a mattress or pillow. (Of Mice and Men)

to act flip [colloq.] to act flippantly or impertinently. (The Grapes of Wrath)

"to bind her" to make a down payment. (Of Mice and Men)

took a powder [Slang] ran away; left. (Of Mice and Men)

touring car an early type of open automobile, often with a folding top, seating five or more passengers. (The Grapes of Wrath)

truck skinner a skinner is a mule driver; here refers to a truck driver. (The Grapes of Wrath)

tunics short coats worn by soldiers, policemen, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

two bits [informal] 25 cents. (The Grapes of Wrath)

two-by-four any length of lumber two inches thick and four inches wide when untrimmed. (The Grapes of Wrath)

union something united or unified; a whole made up of parts; esp. an organization or confederation uniting various individuals, political units, and so on. (The Grapes of Wrath)

vagrant one who wanders from place to place without a regular job, supporting oneself by begging. (The Grapes of Wrath)

vigilantes members of vigilance committees, groups that keep order or punish crime without legal authority. (The Grapes of Wrath)

Weed a northern California mining town. (Of Mice and Men)

welter short for "welterweight," a boxer between a junior welterweight and a junior middleweight. (Of Mice and Men)

whitewashed painted with a mixture of lime, whiting, size, water, etc. (Of Mice and Men)

win'fall peaches here refers to windfall peaches; something blown down by the wind, as fruit from a tree. (The Grapes of Wrath)

work card a card with a job assignment usually given to workers by an employment agency. It is then presented to the employer by the worker. (Of Mice and Men)

"writin' to the patent medicine houses" here, meaning that Curley is writing to mail-order businesses for medicines that increase sexual performance. (Of Mice and Men)