The Catcher in the Rye Vocabulary Explained

Catcher in the Rye
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The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by American author J. D. Salinger. Despite some controversial themes and language, the novel and its protagonist Holden Caulfield have become favorites among teen and young adult readers. It is one of the most popular "coming of age" novels. Salinger wrote parts of the novel during World War II. It speaks of his distrust of adults and the seeming fakeness of adult life, what Holden refers to as "phony".

Many readers related to the somewhat bleak view of the main character. It deals heavily with the loss of the innocence of childhood and having to grow up. Holden wrestles with his want to remain an innocent child which conflict with his more adult urges that cause him do things like unsuccessfully ​seek out a prostitute. 

Told in the first person, Holden speaks to the reader using the common slang of the fifties which give the book a more authentic feel. Much of the language Holden uses is considered crass or vulgar but it fits the personality of the character. However, some of the terms and phrases Holden uses are not commonly used today. A word doesn't have to be considered slang for it to have fallen out of style. As language evolves so to do the words people commonly use. Here's a vocabulary list from  The Catcher in the Rye. Understanding the words Holden uses will give you a greater understanding of the prose.

You can even include some of these words into your own vocabulary if you find yourself liking them. 

Chapters 1-5

grippe: influenza

chiffonier: a bureau with a mirror attached

falsetto: an unnaturally high-pitched voice

hound's-tooth: a pattern of jagged checks, usually black-and-white, on fabric

halitosis: chronic bad breath

phony: a fake or insincere person 

Chapters 6-10

Canasta: a variation on the card game gin rummy

incognito: in the act of concealing one's identity

jitterbug: A very active dance style popular in the 1940s

Chapters 11-15

galoshes: waterproof boots

nonchalant: unconcerned, casual, indifferent

rubberneck: to look at or stare, to gawk, esp. at something unpleasant

bourgeois: middle-class, conventional

Chapters 16-20

blase: indifferent or bored, unimpressed

conceited: having a high opinion of oneself, arrogant

louse: a contemptible person; it is also the term for a single lice

Chapters 21-26

digression: a deviation from a central theme in speaking or writing

cockeyed: slanted, cross-eyed

pharaoh: ancient Egyptian king

bawl: to cry

Please see below for more helpful resources on The Catcher in the Rye:

Study Guide

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Lombardi, Esther. "The Catcher in the Rye Vocabulary Explained." ThoughtCo, Aug. 7, 2017, Lombardi, Esther. (2017, August 7). The Catcher in the Rye Vocabulary Explained. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "The Catcher in the Rye Vocabulary Explained." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 24, 2018).