Study Help Full Glossary for The Scarlet Letter


alchemy the ancient system of chemistry and philosophy having the aim of changing base metals into gold.

anathemas curses things or persons greatly detested.

anemones and columbines flowers of the buttercup family.

Ann Turner an alleged witch who supposedly helped in the poisoning in the previously mentioned Overbury case.

Anne Hutchinson a religious dissenter (1591-1643). In the 1630s she was excommunicated by the Puritans and exiled from Boston and moved to Rhode Island.

Antinomian a believer in the Christian doctrine that faith alone, not obedience to the moral law, is necessary for salvation; to the Puritans, the Antinomian doctrine is heretical.

Apostle Eliot the Rev. John Eliot who preached to Native Americans near Boston.

apotheosized elevated to the status of God, glorified, exalted.

appellation a name or title that describes or identifies a person or thing.

apple-peru a plant that is part of the nightshade family; poisonous.

aqua-vitae literally, water of life. Here, a strong liquor such as whiskey.

asperity harshness or sharpness of temper.

auditors hearers or listeners.

Bacon, Coke, Noye and Finch English lawyers of the 16th and 17th centuries who added to British common law.

bale-fire an outdoor fire; bonfire; here, a beacon fire.

beadle a minor parish officer who keeps order in church.

Black Man the devil who "haunts the forest."

Bristol a British seaport.

buckramed having a covering of cloth made stiff with paste.

burdock any of several plants with large basal leaves and purple-flowered heads covered with hooked prickles.

cabalistic figures secret or occult figures.

Chronicles of England a history of England by Holinshed, written in 1577.

College of Arms a group which approves titles and coats of arms for hereditary aristocracy in England.

commodiousness the condition of having plenty of room; spaciousness.

compeer a person of the same rank or status; equal; peer.

contumaciously disobedient stubbornly resisting authority.

cope a vestmentworn by priests for certain ceremonies. Here, anything that covers like a cope, a canopy over, or the sky.

Cornhill part of Washington Street. Now part of City Hall Plaza.

Cornwall and Devonshire two counties in southwestern England.

Daniel a prophet from the Old Testament.

dark miner worker of the devil; in this case, Chillingworth.

David and Bathsheba the biblical story of King David's adultery with Bathsheba.

deleterious harmful or causing injury.

deportment the manner of conducting or bearing oneself; behavior; demeanor.

depredations robbing, plundering, laying waste.

disquietude a disturbed or uneasy condition; restlessness; anxiety.

disquietude a disturbed or uneasy condition; restlessness; anxiety.

draught of the cup of wormwood and aloes symbolically, a cup of bitter herbs; here, representing what Hester feels inside behind her composed face.

dryad a nymph living in the forest among the trees.

effluence a flowing forth or outward.

eldritch eerie, weird.

Election Sermon the speech given when a governor is installed. It is a great honor to be asked to give this speech.

Elixir of Life a subject of myth, a substance that was supposed to extend life indefinitely.

Elizabethan epoch the late 1500s, named for Elizabeth I and called the Golden Age in arts and literature.

Elizabethan ruff an elaborate collar worn around the neck, consisting of tiny accordion pleats.

emolument profit that comes from employment or political office.

erudition learning acquired by reading and study; scholarship.

escutcheon a shield or shield-shaped surface on which a coat of arms is displayed.

exigencies great needs; a situation calling for immediate action or attention.

expiation atonement; to pay a penalty for something.

fathomless too deep to be measured; incomprehensible.

folio tome; here, a large book.

from Bunyans' awful doorway Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress was an allegory of the late 1600s; the doorway is the entrance to hell.

Geneva cloak a black cloak that Calvinist ministers wore.

gesticulation a gesture, esp. an energetic one.

Gobelin looms a tapestry factory in Paris that made the finest tapestries.

gossip a person who chatters or repeats idle talk and rumors

Governor Bellingham (1592-1672) the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Governor Winthrop John Winthrop (1588-1649), first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

gules red; a term used in heraldry.

halberds combination battle-axes and spears used in the 15th and 16th centuries.

healing balm an ointment used for healing.

heterodox religious person who disagrees with church beliefs; unorthodox.

Holy Writ the Bible.

horn-book a sheet of parchment with the alphabet, table of numbers, etc. on it, mounted on a small board with a handle and protected by a thin, transparent plate of horn. It was formerly used as a child's primer.

an hour past meridian 1:00 p.m.

ignominious shameful; dishonorable; disgraceful.

ignominy shame and dishonor; infamy.

importunate urgent or persistent in asking or demanding; insistent; refusing to be denied; annoyingly urgent or persistent.

in Spring Lane a crossroad in downtown Boston

indefatigable untiring; not yielding to fatigue.

Indian sagamores chiefs or subchiefs in the Abnakis culture.

irrefragable that cannot be refuted; indisputable; impossible to change.

Isaac Johnson a settler (1601-1630) who left land to Boston; he died shortly after the Puritans arrived. His land would be north of King's Chapel (1688), which can be visited today.

John the Baptist the preacher who announced in the Bible the coming of Jesus. He was beheaded by Herod whom he accused of adultery.

John Wilson the Reverend John Wilson (1588-1667), a minster who was considered a great clergyman and teacher. He was a prosecutor of Anne Hutchinson.

King James King James I (1603-1625) of England. He ordered the translation of the Bible, now called the King James Version.

King's own mint-mark here, a mark guaranteeing authenticity.

Knights Templars a medieval order of knights founded in 1119 in Jerusalem.

leech [Archaic] a doctor. In Hawthorne's time, blood-sucking leeches were used to effect a cure by removing blood.

Lethe the river of forgetfulness, flowing through Hades, whose water produces loss of memory in those who drink of it.

Lord of Misrule a part acted out in court masques in England during the Christmas season. He was part of a pagan, not Christian, myth.

Luther Martin Luther (1483-1546), the first rebel against Catholicism; leader of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.

malignant having an evil influence.

man-like Elizabeth Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603), characterized as having masculine qualities.

mien a way of looking; appearance.

miracle of holiness In a similar story of Hawthorne's, "The Minister's Black Veil," the clergyman experiences a similar sympathy from sharing the sin of his fellow men.

misanthropy distrust or hatred of people.

morion a hatlike, crested helmet with a curved brim coming to a peak in front and in back, worn in the 16th and 17th centuries.

mutability ability to be changed.

Nathan the Prophet the biblical prophet who condemned David's adultery.

necromancy black magic; sorcery.

Nepenthe a drug supposed by the ancient Greeks to cause forgetfulness of sorrow.

New England Primer a book used to teach Puritan children their alphabet and reinforrce moral and spiritual lessons.

new Jerusalem another name for Boston; also, a place for sinners who have been saved.

New Jerusalem might mean Boston, the city on the hill.

nightshade, dogwood, henbane plants used as poisons and in witches charms.

nugatory trifling; worthless; invalid.

nymph-child a young maiden; here, Pearl.

obeisance homage, deference.

ordinations regulations, laws.

Oxford Oxford University in England.

Papist a Roman Catholic; the Puritans thought them to be heretics.

parable a short, simple story from which a moral or religious lesson may be drawn.

Paracelsus (1493-1541) The most famous medieval alchemist; he was Swiss.

pathos the emotion of compassion.

pearl of great price see the story in Matthew 13:45-46, about a merchant who sold all his goods for one pearl of great worth, which represents the kingdom of heaven. Wilson is saying here that Pearl may find salvation.

Pentecost a Christian festival on the seventh Sunday after Easter; it celebrates the Holy Spirit descending on the Apostles.

Pequot war raids on Indian villages by Massachusetts settlers in 1637.

petticoat and farthingale underskirts and hoops beneath them.

phantasmagoric dreamlike; fantastic.

pharmacopoeia a stock of drugs.

physic [Archaic] medicine.

physiognomies facial features and expression, esp. as supposedly indicative of character

pigweed any of several coarse weeds with dense, bristly clusters of small green flowers. Also called lamb's quarters.

pillory stocks where petty offenders were formerly locked and exposed to public scorn.

plaintiveness melancholy, suffering.

plebeian order the commoners.

plebian inhabitants commoners.

portal here, the prison door.

portent an omen.

precocity matured or developed beyond chronological age.

pristine original or characteristic of an earlier period.

probity uprightness in one's dealings; integrity; honesty.

recluse a solitary person; shut away from the world.

rheumatic flannel material worn to keep warm, especially to ease the pain of rheumatism in the joints.

rich, voluptuous, Oriental characteristic the gorgeous, exquisite, exotically beautiful.

sanctity of Enoch a man in the Bible who lived to be 365 years old. Enoch was pure enough that he walked with God and went to heaven without having to die first.

scintillating sparkling, bright, witty.

scourge a whip used for flogging.

scrofula a tuberculosis of the lymph glands in the neck.

scurrilous vulgar, indecent, abusive.

scurvy or ship-fever a disease caused by lack of vitamin C.

sedulous hardworking and diligent.

sexton a church officer or employee in charge of maintenance of the church property.

simples [Archaic] medicines from herbs or plants.

Sir Thomas Overbury and Dr. Forman the subjects of an adultery scandal in 1615 in England. Dr. Forman was charged with trying to poison his adulterous wife and her lover. Overbury was a friend of the lover and was perhaps poisoned.

skull-cap a light, closefitting, brimless cap, usually worn indoors.

Spanish Main the Caribbean.

spectral of, having the nature of, or like a specter; phantom; ghostly; supernatural.

sprit elf-like.

steel headpiece, a cuirass, a gorget, and greaves . . . gauntlets here, all parts of a suit of armor.

stigma mark or brand; usually shameful.

stripes [Archaic] welts on the skin caused by whipping.

sumptuary laws laws set up by the colony concerning expenses for personal items like clothing.

talisman anything thought to have magic power; a charm.

tankard a large drinking cup with a handle and, often, a hinged lid.

these iron men here, meaning the stern Puritan forefathers who make the rules.

tithing-men men who collect church taxes.

transitory stay a very brief stay, as in this life compared to an eternal one.

triple ruff an elaborate collar

utterance of oracles the telling of wise predictions about the future.

vexed distressed, afflicted, or plagued.

vicissitude unpredictable changes or variations that keep occurring in life, fortune, etc.; shifting circumstances.

vilified defamed or abused.

Westminster Catechism printed in 1648, it was used to teach Puritan religious lessons and the pillars of church doctrine.

zenith the point directly overhead.