Huckleberry Finn Vocabulary

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

The richness of the vocabulary in Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain captures us, holds our attention, and helps to create images that forever stay in our minds. Understanding the vocabulary makes all the difference when trying to get the most out of the story.

Story Line

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain introduces us to the world of Huck and Jim. Huck is a boy who has difficulties living by society's rules and longs to be in charge of his own life. Jim is a runaway slave who is trying to find his way back to his family. Together they forge a friendship that teaches them about kindness, love, and helping the people you care the most about.

Huck and Jim
Huck and Jim

Words to Consider

In order to fully understand what Mark Twain is trying to convey in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is important that we take some time to think about the novel's vocabulary. We need to make sure that the meaning of the words is clear in our minds so we can enjoy the story he is telling. Let's consider some vocabulary that you may find helpful.


  • A skiff is a shallow, flat-bottomed boat with a square stern.

'So we unhitched a skiff and pulled down the river two mile and a half, to the big scar on the hillside, and went ashore' (Chapter 2).

  • A derrick is a crane with a movable arm for moving heavy objects.

'The lightning showed us the wreck again just in time, and we fetched the starboard derrick, and made fast there' (Chapter 12).

  • If you carry a bodkin you have a dagger with a thin blade in case you need it.

'To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin' (Chapter 21).


  • When someone is ornery they are cranky or grumpy and difficult to be around.

'I thought it all out, and reckoned I would belong to the widow's if he wanted me, though I couldn't make out how he was a-going to be any better off then than what he was before, seeing I was so ignorant, and so kind of low-down and ornery' (Chapter 3).

  • When someone is palavering they are talking on and on without much purpose.

'Don't stand there palavering all day, but out with you and see if there's a fish on the lines for breakfast' (Chapter 7).

  • A jabbering person is someone who talks in a rapid, excited way without making much sense.

'I told Jim all about the time I had jabbering with that woman; and Jim said she was a smart one, and if she was to start after us herself she wouldn't set down and watch a camp fire--no, sir, she'd fetch a dog' (Chapter 12).

  • A person who demonstrates gumption shows that he is determined and resourceful.

'Does I shin aroun' mongs' de neighbors en fine out which un you de bill do b'long to, en han' it over to de right one, all safe en soun', de way dat anybody dat had any gumption would?' (Chapter 14).

  • Spite is to be deliberately hurtful or annoying.

'He said there was hundreds of soldiers there, and elephants and treasure, and so on, but we had enemies which he called magicians; and they had turned the whole thing into an infant Sunday-school, just out of spite' (Chapter 3).

  • A haughty person is arrogant, superior, and pompous.

'Misfortune has broken my once haughty spirit; I yield, I submit; 'tis my fate' (Chapter 20).


  • Fetched means to bring a price for something sold.

'Well, Judge Thatcher he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round--more than a body could tell what to do with' (Chapter 1).

  • Reckoned means to expect or believe in something.

'I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight' (Chapter 1).

  • When you meddle you intrude in their business.

'Who told you you might meddle with such hifalut'n foolishness, hey?--who told you you could?' (Chapter 5).

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