'A Christmas Carol' Vocabulary Study List

From Charles Dickens' Christmas Classic

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In his popular story, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens uses the musical term "stave" to indicate the chapters. Dickens was known, on occasion, to use clever terms to describe the sections of his books. For example, in The Cricket on the Hearth, he calls the chapters "chirps."

To modern readers, "stave" might not be the only unfamiliar term. You can refer to the following list of terms, separated by chapter, to help understand the text and grow your vocabulary. Some of the words may be familiar, but others are no longer in common usage.

Stave One: Marley's Ghost

Dickens begins his novella by introducing the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, his poor clerk Bob Cratchit, and the ghost of Scrooge's late partner, Jacob Marley. The ghost tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits during the night.

  • Ironmongery - a store that sells iron works 
  • Unhallowed - something unholy
  • Residuary - the person entitled to the remainder of an estate
  • Ramparts - anything that acts as a barricade barricade 
  • Entreaty - a sincere request
  • Trifle - something of little value
  • Phantoms - spirits or illusions
  • Intimation - a suggestion
  • Morose - a bleak outlook or attitude 
  • Impropriety - something improper or inappropriate 
  • Resolute - a determined outlook 
  • Homage - to pay public respect or honor something
  • Ominous - to give an impression of doom or imply bad things will happen
  • Facetious - to treat something serious with a deliberate lack of care
  • Brazier - a portable heater that uses lighted coals
  • Solitude - to be alone
  • Misanthropic - disliking people in general and having an anti-social bad attitude
  • Garret - a room just under the roof of a house that's usually very small 
  • Congenial - a pleasant or friendly personality
  • Phenomenon - a fact or situation which is unexplained
  • Irresolution - to be uncertain
  • Transparent - something that is see through or fully explained
  • Caustic - bitter sarcasm 
  • Waggish - playful or mischievous humor
  • Spectre - ghost or vision 
  • Remorse - to deeply regret something
  • Benevolence - well meaning and kind
  • Apparition - a ghost or other human-like spirit 
  • Dirge - a funeral song

Stave Two: The First of the Three Spirits

The first spirit to visit Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Past, who shows him scenes from his lonely childhood and a broken engagement to a lovely young woman because of his greed.

  • Opaque - something that is unclear
  • Preposterous - absurd or ridiculous
  • Perplexed - confused 
  • Endeavored - tried hard to achieve 
  • Recumbent - something laying down
  • Fluctuated - to irregularly rise and fall
  • Supplication - earnest begging
  • Vestige - a small trace of something that is no longer here
  • Extraordinary - something unusual
  • Condescension - an attitude of disdainful superiority
  • Celestial - part of the heavens
  • Terrestrial - relating to the Earth
  • Agitation - nervous excitement 
  • Avarice - extreme greed
  • Tumultuous - a confused excitement 
  • Uproarious - provoking a loud sound or laughter
  • Brigands - a member of a gang of thieves 
  • Boisterous - a noisy or energetic crowd or a loud storm
  • Onslaught - a fierce attack
  • Despoil - to steal violently
  • Irrepressible - uncontrollable
  • Haggard - looking exhausted
  • Irresistible - unable to resist

Stave Three: The Second of the Three Spirits

Ghost of Christmas Present visits Scrooge and shows him the happy holiday scenes in his town, including in the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Despite being poor and having a crippled son (Tiny Tim), Cratchit and his family rejoice in the holiday spirit.

  • Apprehensive - hesitant or fearful
  • Spontaneous - performed on impulse
  • Combustion - burning
  • Consolation - comfort after a disappointment
  • Predicament - a difficult situation
  • Capacious - roomy 
  • Artifice - a clever device to trick someone
  • Scabbard - a sheath for a weapon
  • Jovial - happy and friendly 
  • Parapets - a low protective wall
  • Apoplectic - to be overcome with anger
  • Opulence - to show extreme wealth 
  • Demurely - to do with modesty 
  • Conspicuous - to stand out
  • Heresy - a belief that goes against the teachings of the Christian church
  • Penitence - showing sorrow or regret
  • Rebuke - sharp disapproval
  • Odious - extremely repulsive

Stave Four: The Last of the Spirits

The final spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is a silent, dark figure, who shows Scrooge a dismal future and death of a greedy man who turns out to be Scrooge. His clerk, meanwhile, grieves the loss of his young son. Terrified, Scrooge begs the spirit for mercy and promises to change his life.

  • Shroud - a burial wrapping
  • Pendulous - loosely hanging down
  • Excrescence - an unpleasant addition 
  • Latent - hidden or dormant
  • Resolution - a firm choice not to do something
  • Slipshod - careless
  • Cesspools - a storage unit for liquid waste

Stave Five: The End of It

Scrooge wakes up with a new, joyful outlook on life, grateful for a second chance. He surprises everyone with his cheerful greetings. He donates money to the poor, sends a turkey to the Cratchit home, and attends his nephew's Christmas party. He further shocks the Cratchits by giving Bob a substantial raise and acting as a second father to Tiny Tim.

  • Extravagance - a lack of restraint in spending wealth
  • Illustrious - well known or respected
  • Array - a range of a type of thing
  • Feign - to pretend to be affected by something
  • Malady - an illness