Tom Sawyer Vocabulary

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Twain's writing takes readers from ease of conversation to descriptors of more difficult concepts. In this lesson, you'll get to examine a few of the vocabulary terms relevant to ''The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.''

Twain's Twang

One of the most endearing characteristics of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, is the vocabulary used to paint a picture for its readers. Twain frequently uses contradictions and slang in dialogue between his teen-aged characters, which lends a certain credibility to the conversations as you're reading. Twain's vocabulary style is fluid and adaptable, which creates a very readable prose for the audience. Because of the varied nature of the book, Twain is equally able to use simple speech as well as more difficult words to switch it up for the point he's trying to convey.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer takes readers on the journey of a young boy's life as he grows up in a small town alongside his best friends (you may have heard of at least one, chronicled in another title by Twain - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.).

Let's take a look at some of the vocabulary that Twain readers will experience in reading about young Tom Sawyer.


1. Spectacles: a type of eyeglasses, held in place with pieces over the ears

Book example: 'The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them.'

2. Sagacity: good mental discernment or judgement

Book example: 'She was half sorry her sagacity had miscarried, and half glad that Tom had stumbled into obedient conduct for once.'

3. Countenance: appearance, especially of the face

Book example: 'The people had stopped moving out of church. Whispers passed along, and a boding uneasiness took possession of every countenance.'

4. Ambuscade: an ambush; or, to ambush

Book example: 'He got home pretty late that night, and when he climbed cautiously in at the window, he uncovered an ambuscade, in the person of his aunt; and when she saw the state his clothes were in her resolution to turn his Saturday holiday into captivity at hard labor became adamantine in its firmness.'

5. Guile: Crafty or artful deception

Book example: 'While Tom was eating his supper, and stealing sugar as opportunity offered, Aunt Polly asked him questions that were full of guile, and very deep - for she wanted to trap him into damaging revealments.'

6. Diffident: Lacking confidence; shy

Book example: 'Speak out, my boy - don't be diffident.'

7. Melancholy: Gloomy, sober or depressed

Book example: 'The boy's soul was steeped in melancholy; his feelings were in happy accord with his surroundings.'

8. Starboard: Toward the right side of a vessel

Book example: 'As he drew near, he slackened speed, took the middle of the street, leaned far over to starboard and rounded to ponderously and with laborious pomp and circumstance - for he was personating the Big Missouri, and considered himself to be drawing nine feet of water.'

9. Evanescent: Vanishing or barely perceptible

Book example: 'He had thought he loved her to distraction; he had regarded his passion as adoration; and behold it was only a poor little evanescent partiality.'

10. Eclat: Reputation or acclaim

Book example: 'It is possible that Tom's mental stomach had never really hungered for one of those prizes, but unquestionably his entire being had for many a day longed for the glory and the eclat that came with it.'

11. Caricature: A picture or description

Book example:'Tom partly uncovered a dismal caricature of a house with two gable ends to it and a corkscrew of smoke issuing from the chimney.'

12. Andiron: A pair of metal stands, typically used for holding logs in a fireplace

Book example: 'Tom got out his chiefest jewel, a brass knob from the top of an andiron, and passed it around her so that she could see it. . .'

13. Natty: Neatly or smartly dressed

Book example: 'His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons.'

14. Furtive: Sly or shifty in action

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