Study Help Full Glossary for Moby-Dick


abashed embarrassed, self-conscious.

abated made less in amount, degree, or force.

ablutions washing of the body, often ritualistic.

abridged condensed, shortened but keeping the main contents.

abstemious characterized by abstinence.

affidavit a written statement made under oath.

aft near or toward the stern (rear) of a ship.

Albatross a large, web-footed bird found chiefly in the South Seas; a burden (see Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," 1798).

allured tempted with something desirable, enticed.

anathema a thing or person damned or greatly detested.

"And I only am escaped alone to tell thee" a biblical reference to Job 1:17.

anoint to put oil on in a ceremony of consecration.

anomalous deviating from the regular arrangement or general rule, abnormal.

Antilles the main island group of the West Indies, including all but the Bahamas.

apoplexy a brain hemorrhage or stroke, causing convulsions, paralysis, etc.

apothecary a pharmacist or druggist.

apotheosis deification or glorification of a person or thing.

apprised informed.

archipelagoes groups or chains of many islands.

The Arsacides Pacific atolls near the southern tip of the Solomon Islands.

aspersion a damaging or disparaging remark.

athwart at right angles to the keel of; crosswise.

audacious bold or daring.

auger a narrow tool for boring holes in wood.

aught to any degree.

august here, imposing, magnificent, inspiring awe.

ballast anything heavy carried in a ship to give stability.

Beelzebub a chief devil; sometimes used for Satan.

bilious bad-tempered, cross.

binnacle an upright, cylindrical stand holding the ship's compass.

blithe cheerful, carefree.

bodings here, ominous, foreboding thoughts.

boom a spar (pole) extending from a mast to hold the bottom of a sail outstretched.

boon a request for a favor; the favor granted.

bowsprit a large, tapered spar extending forward from the bow of a sailing vessel.

brace of dandies a pair of fops, men who pay too much attention to appearance.

buckler a small, round shield held by hand or worn on the arm.

bulwarks the part of a ship's side above the deck.

bumpkin an awkward or simple person from the country.

Canst thou fill . . . shaking of a spear." Old Testament, Job 41:7, 26-34.

Cape-Horner a ship that travels around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America.

cataract a large waterfall or deluge that is difficult to see through.

celerity swiftness, speed.

Cellini Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71), Italian sculptor also known for his autobiography.

chowder a thick soup consisting of milk, various vegetables, salt pork, and clams or fish.

circumambulate to walk around.

citadel a fortress, usually on a commanding height.

concubines here, females in the harem.

confabulation talking together in an informal way, chatting.

conjurer a magician, sorcerer.

counterpane an embroidered quilt, here compared to Queequeg's tattooed skin.

cozening cheating, deceiving.

The Crotch a notched, perpendicular stick that holds two harpoons for quick accessibility.

crucible a container that can resist great heat, used for melting ore; a test or trial.

cupidity avarice, greed.

De balena vero . . . regina caudam Latin, "Concerning the whale, it truly suffices, if the king has the head, and the queen the tail."

decanter a decorative glass bottle, generally with a stopper, for serving wine.

diddled to have sexual intercourse with; here, victimized, messed with.

dyspeptic suffering from indigestion.

effected brought about by a cause or agent.

effulgent radiant, brilliant.

eight bells here, midnight, the end of the watch that began at 8 p.m. The ringing of a bell marks each half hour of the watch.

Elijah a biblical prophet of doom (1 Kings 21:17-19).

elucidate to make clear, to explain.

epaulet a shoulder ornament for uniforms, especially for military officers' uniforms.

erudite having or showing great knowledge gained from reading.

eschewed avoided, shunned.

ex officio Latin, "by virtue of one's office or position."

extant still existing, not extinct.

facetiousness joking or trying to be amusing.

fain gladly willing

fallacious erroneous, misleading, containing a fallacy (a mistaken idea, an error in reasoning, etc.).

fathom six feet, a unit of length used to measure the depth of water or the length of nautical rope or cable.

festoon a wreath or garland of flowers, leaves or paper, shaped in a loop or curve.

fetid decaying, putrid, having a bad smell.

flouts mocks or scoffs at, shows contempt for.

for the nonce for now, for the time being.

for the nonce for the time being.

forecastle the front part of the ship where the crew's quarters are located.

frigate a fast, medium-sized, sailing warship.

furlong a unit of measure equal to an eighth of a mile or 220 yards.

hap chance occurrence or event, especially an unfortunate one.

helm the wheel by which a ship is steered.

heterogeneous opposite, dissimilar, incongruous.

hieroglyphic a picture or sign representing a word; difficult to understand.

hoe-cake a thin bread made of cornmeal, originally baked on a hoe at the fire.

hustings a deliberative assembly; here, politics, a political campaign.

hypos here, hypochondria, imaginary illnesses.

ignominy loss of one's reputation; dishonor, infamy.

impunity exemption from punishment, penalty, or harm.

incorrigible that cannot be corrected or improved.

ineffable that cannot or dare not be put into words because too overwhelming or sacred.

inexorable that cannot be altered.

insatiate never satisfied.

inscrutable difficult to understand, mysterious.

intrepid bold, fearless.

inveterate settled in a habit or practice, habitual.

jacks here, small flags.

jaundice an infirmity in which the eyeballs, skin, and urine become abnormally yellowish as a result of increased bile in the blood.

labyrinth an intricate network of winding passages, a maze.

larboard the left-hand side of the ship as one faces forward; also called port.

lee leeward, downwind, on the sheltered side.

Lee Shore the leeward, downwind, sheltered, or protected shore.

legerdemain sleight of hand, tricks of a stage magician.

Leviathan a sea monster, a whale (biblical).

libertines people who live unrestrained, immoral lives.

lucifers lucifer, an early type of friction match.

mace a heavy medieval war club.

magnanimous noble in mind, generous in overlooking insult or injury.

mainyard the lowest rod or spar on the mainmast, from which the mainsail is set.

malignity intense ill will, a quality of being harmful or dangerous.

Manhattoes residents of Manhattan Island, New York City.

maw here, the throat, gullet, or jaws of a voracious animal or fish.

Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin a cryptic biblical phrase from Daniel 5: 5, 25-28, which Daniel sees as a curse from God. Here, Melville is illustrating the gravity of the situation.

mizzen shrouds the ropes connecting the third mast (from the front) to the ship's sides.

momentous very important.

monomaniacal irrationally preoccupied with one subject.

mosque a Muslim temple or place of worship.

Newcastle a city in England known for its coal production.

nigh near in time or place.

oblique having a slanted position or direction.

oblivious unaware, unmindful, forgetful.

obsequious showing too great a willingness to serve or obey, fawning.

obstreperously noisily, boisterously.

omniscient knowing all things.

omnivorous eating any sort of food, eating both animal and vegetable food.

ostensible apparent.

ostentatious showy, pretentious.

packet a boat that travels a regular route, carrying passengers, freight and mail.

palpable that which can be touched, felt, or handled; tangible.

paregoric a medication that soothes or lessens pain.

penem . . . lactantem; ex lege . . . meritoque Latin, "a penis that enters the female that suckles from breasts; from the law of nature with justice and merit." The narrator quotes this scholarly definition of a mammal for the purpose of ironic humor. He thinks a whale is a fish either way.

perdition damnation, Hell.

peremptory final, absolute, decisive.

perfidious dishonest, betraying, treacherous.

pilfer to steal small sums or petty objects.

pod here, a group of whales, usually about eight to a pod according to Ishmael.

poltroon a thorough coward.

prairie a type of clam, here compared to the whale's head.

prating talking much and foolishly.

prescience apparent knowledge of things before they happen, foreknowledge.

primogeniture the exclusive right of the eldest son to inherit his father's estate.

prodigious of great size or power.

progeny descendants, offspring.

pugnacious combative, quarrelsome, ready for a fight.

puissant powerful.

punctilious very careful about every detail.

Queen Mab in folklore, a fairy queen who controls people's dreams.

Quito the capital city of the republic of Ecuador.

quohog an edible clam having a large, thick, hard shell.

Rachel, weeping for her children a biblical reference, Jeremiah 31: 15 and Matthew 2: 18.

Ramadan the ninth month of the Muslim year, a period of daily fasting from sunrise to sunset; here, a reference to Queequeg's abbreviated religious fast.

rapacious greedy; taking by force, plundering.

ratification approval or confirmation.

repugnance extreme dislike or distaste, aversion.

sagacious wise.

saline salty.

salt here, an experienced sailor.

Saul of Tarsus original name of the biblical Apostle to the Gentiles, Saint Paul.

sceptre rod or staff held by rulers on ceremonial occasions.

scuttle here, a small, covered opening or hatchway in the outer hull or deck of a ship.

scuttle-butt a container for drinking-water aboard ship; information passed at such a place.

Shakers here, short for Shaking Quakers, a sect so named because of trembling caused by emotional stress or euphoria of devotions.

shiver here, to cause a sail to flutter by heading too close to the wind.

shoal a large group or school of fish.

shoemaker's last a block or form shaped like a person's foot and used for making or repairing shoes.

shuttlecock a rounded, feathered piece of cork used as the "bird" in badminton.

Siamese joined, as with Siamese twins.

sinecure here, an office or position requiring little work.

skrimshander scrimshaw, intricate carving of whalebones.

slander a false, damaging statement about a person made to another person.

smack a small sailboat, usually rigged as a sloop with only mainsail and jib.

spermaceti a white, waxlike substance taken from the oil in the head of a sperm whale, used to make candles, cosmetics, or ointments.

spliced here, joined in marriage.

squire an attendant, especially to a medieval knight; here a reference to a harpooner.

staid sober, sedate, settled.

starboard the right-hand side of the ship as one faces forward.

steadfast firm, fixed, established.

stolid having or showing little emotion or sensitivity.

stunsail studdingsail, an auxiliary sail designed to increase speed in light winds.

superfluous excessive, more than is needed.

supplication a humble request or prayer.

surmises conjectures, speculations, guesses.

synod an ecclesiastical council, a high governing body.

tableau a striking, dramatic scene or picture.

tacit unspoken.

taffrail the rail around the stern of a ship.

tar here, a sailor.

tierce a forty-two gallon cask.

timorous full of or subject to fear, timid.

transient temporary, passing quickly or soon.

transom here, a horizontal beam in the stern (rear) of the ship used as a seat.

tremulous trembling, timid, fearful.

try pots vats used to melt or render whale blubber to get the oil.

turbid thick, dense, and dark.

ubiquitous seeming to be present everywhere at the same time.

unctuous oily, greasy; smug, smoothly pretentious.

vacillate to sway to and fro, to waver in mind.

vainglorious boastfully vain and proud of oneself.

venerable worthy of respect or reverence by reason of age and dignity or character.

verdigris a green or greenish-blue coating that forms like rust on brass, bronze, or copper.

vermicelli pasta similar to spaghetti but in thinner strings.

vicariously on behalf of another.

vicissitude a condition of constant change or alternation, mutability.

Vishnu in Hinduism, the second member of the trinity, called "the Preserver."

volition the act of using the will, a deliberate decision.

warp and woof in weaving, the threads running lengthwise and crossways on the loom; the foundation upon which something is built.

watch any of the periods of duty into which work is divided onboard ship.

weal well-being, welfare.

whelp a puppy or cub.

whist a card game, a forerunner of bridge.

wont usual practice, habit.

XXXIX Articles the Articles of Faith of the Church of England.

yaw to swing back and forth across its course, as a ship hit by high waves.