The Tell-Tale Heart Vocabulary

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 150 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 170 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, 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

The following is a list of unfamiliar words (and words used differently) with their definitions. They are 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; a tattletale.

Mad- in this context, mad means insane or crazy.

Acute- heightened, sharpened, or extremely sensitive.

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

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

Vulture- a large bird of prey; often has a naked head; related to the hawk and eagle. Also, the name which the main character gives to the old man because of his one pale blue eye.

Fancy- ''fancy'' is a familiar word, but it's used differently in this context; it is an idea; a mental image; a notion or thought.

Foresight- thinking ahead or foreseeing the future.

Dissimulation- the act of hiding the truth; concealing.

Sufficient- enough.

Cunningly- skillfully; slyly; craftily; done with deception.

Vex- disturb; annoy; or trouble.

Profound- very deep; intellectual.

Sagacity- sound in judgment; wise.

Triumph- victory or success.

Startled- frightened.

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

Stifled- smothered; made unable to breathe.

Awe- intense fear, terror, or dread.

Bosom- chest; breast of a human being.

Pitied- felt sorry for; sympathy.

Suppositions- something that is supposed; an assumption.

Vain- unsuccessful; ineffectual.

Enveloped- to wrap up or surround entirely.

Mournful- gloomy or dreary.

Unperceived- unrecognized or not being aware of something.

Crevice- a crack or opening.

Stealthily- done in secret without being noticed or caught.

Marrow- the innermost part of the bone.

Fury- violence; rage; unrestrained anger.

Refrained- to hold back; to deny an impulse.

Tattoo- imprint.

Seize- to grab; to take hold of forcibly and suddenly.

Gaily- merrily; joyfully; cheerfully.

Ceased- stopped; ended.

Corpse- dead, or lifeless body.

Pulsation- beating or throbbing.

Waned- lessened or decreased in strength/intensity.

Dismembered- divided limb from limb; a body separated into different parts.

Chamber- a room.

Scantlings- a timber, or piece of wood, of relatively thin width and thickness.

Wary- cautious; be on ones guard.

Suavity- courteous; having good manners; agreeable.

Aroused- to stir up; to rile up.

Deputed- appointed to; assigned to.

Premises-property; an area.

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