The Tell-Tale Heart Vocabulary

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  • 0:04 Language Changes
  • 0:42 Vocabulary Words
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Acker

Michelle has a degree in English and a Master's in Education from Temple University. She has taught special education, 4th grade, and high school Communication Arts.

It has been over 175 years since Edgar Allan Poe wrote 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' which makes the language sounds quite dated and different from how we speak today. This lesson will help you understand the story's unfamiliar vocabulary.

Ancient Language

Edgar Allan Poe wrote the short story 'The Tell-Tale Heart' in 1843, more than 175 years ago. Since language is always evolving, many of the words Poe chose may have had a slightly different meaning back then, or are unfamiliar today.

As you read 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' you'll notice a distinct difference between Poe's conversational tone and our own. You might even say to yourself, 'Nobody talks like this.' Which is true, as modern English sounds quite different from nineteenth-century English. Because of these changes, we need to spend a little extra time understanding the vocabulary in the 'Tell-Tale Heart,' so that we can better understand the story.

Vocabulary Words

Here's a list of unfamiliar words (and words used differently) with their definitions included. They're listed in the order in which they appear in the story:

Tell-Tale - a person or thing (in this case a heart) that maliciously reveals a secret

Mad - in this context, meaning insane or crazy

Acute - being heightened, sharpened, or extremely sensitive

Hearken - a figure of speech that means to listen, or pay close attention

Conceived - to form or come up with an idea or plan

Vulture - a large bird of prey which often has a naked head and is related to the hawk and eagle; it's also the name the main character gives to the old man because of his one pale blue eye

Fancy - in this context, meaning an idea a mental image, notion, or thought

Foresight - as in thinking ahead or foreseeing the future

Dissimulation - the act of hiding the truth

Cunningly - which refers to be skillfully sly or crafty

Vex - to disturb, annoy, or trouble

Profound - being very deep or intellectual

Sagacity - sound in judgment or wisdom

Mortal terror - deadly fear; something so frightening that it scares you to death

Stifled - which is being smothered or made unable to breathe

Awe - in this context, intense fear, terror, or dread

Bosom - the chest or breasts of a human being

Suppositions - something that is supposed

Vain - in this context, being unsuccessful or ineffectual

Enveloped - to wrap up or surround entirely

Unperceived - unrecognized or not being aware of something

Crevice - a crack or opening

Stealthily - done in secret without being noticed or caught

Refrained - to hold back or deny an impulse

Tattoo - in this context, to imprint

Gaily - meaning merry, joyful, or cheerful

Ceased - stopped or ended

Pulsation - which refers to beating or throbbing

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