A narrative dictionary


yar-bor-ough (YAHR-bur-oh, -buhr-oh)

(n.) (Whist, Bridge) a hand in which no card is higher than a nine.


Peter couldn’t help but grin. He couldn’t help but grin and pat himself on the back, because the date was going splendidly, and had been all night. The date was going as well as a date could conceivably go, and it gave him high hopes, both for the future and the evening ahead.

"You’re funny," she said, still catching her breath. She looked up at him, at the dark flecks in his eyes, and he held her gaze for a precise span of time before flaring his eyebrows in a particular way, and she looked away again, giggling, her eyes shrinking down to narrow slits, tiny black smiles in mimicry of the one flashing beneath her red painted lips.

"What can I say?" He shrugged, a gesture steeped in layers of deliberate irony. False modesty, intended.

"I don’t know," she said, recovering, "you’ve been saying an awful lot tonight."

He leaned forward. “Are you implying I talk too much?”

"So what if I am?"

"That’s very rude of you."

She laughed again.

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ae-o-li-an (ee-OH-lee-un)

1. (adj.) of or caused by the wind; wind-blown.
2. (adj.) pertaining to Aeolus, or the winds in general.


The trees whispered, and in the dull orange light cast by the street lamps, it gave Max the overall impression that they were telling him to leave. Not quite a warning but not quite a threat either, simply the indifferent wisdom of nature. Leeeeeeeeavvvvvve they told him, and if they had tongues they would no doubt have added You should never have come. And with or without tongues, the leaves were right, but he not had any choice in the matter so who were they to judge, and he tried his best to ignore the sound but of course it was impossible.

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a-poth-e-o-sis (uh-pah-thee-OH-sis; ap-uh-THEE-uh-sis)

1. (n.) Elevation to divine rank or stature; deification.
2. (n.) An exalted or glorified example; a model of excellence or perfection of a kind.


I have always kept a can of pennies by my bedroom window. Mom would throw the pennies she got for change in the street and I would go out and pick them up. I thought that if I picked up enough of them, I might one day be rich. Later on in life, I kept up the habit: any pennies I happened to see in the street, or any pennies someone happened to give me, as change or whatever, I kept in a coffee can that I left there on the windowsill. Whenever the can filled up, I would take the pennies to the bank and have them turn the coins into more useful forms of currency, but I would always keep the converted money separate. That money was not for spending. I guess maybe I wanted to see how rich I could actually get just from picking up pennies. And maybe, as I got older, I thought that the habit alone, of saving every literal penny, would itself make me rich, that habits like that were the hallmarks of those who do not waste their lives, who go out and forge the kind of fate they desire while the remaining masses, like little clockwork machines, march blindly into the darkness of their uneventful lives, dying, in the end, without any measurable purpose.

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ob-nub-i-late (ob-NOO-buh-leyt)

(v.) to cloud over; becloud; obscure.


“You can drop me off there,” Martin said, pointing to a gas station on the corner.

“That’s okay,” Tim’s mom said, “we can take you all the way home.”

“No, it’s fine. I can walk.”

She felt odd about it, but she pulled over and Martin hopped out and swung his backpack over his shoulder and turned and waved meekly to Tim.

“See you tomorrow.”

He waited for them to drive off before he headed down the street.

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dipsomania [dip-suh-MEY-nee-uh, -soh]

(n.) an irresistible, typically periodic craving for alcoholic drink.

Carl was awake but he didn’t want to open his eyes. Gradually, in the rosy darkness behind his eye lids, he began to piece together: where he was, what he was doing there, what had happened the night before. And he was relieved to reach the conclusion that he was simply at his old friend Steve’s house, where it was safe. But as to the other details, he could not recall.

Eventually he opened his eyes. There was a dull stucco ceiling above him. And he sat up, and Steve was there in the kitchen, eating breakfast.

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ex·pur·gate [EK-sper-geyt]

1. (v.) to ammend by removing words, passages, etc., deemed offensive or objectionable.
2. (v.) to purge or cleanse of moral offensiveness.

"She really was a dumb bitch, though."

Thomas nodded his head. He knew that, for the rest of the night at least, his main duty would be to nod along to whatever Kurt felt was necessary to say. So he nodded, then stopped to take a sip of his beer, and then went ahead and nodded a few times more for good measure.

"Just an absolute bitch."

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De·mul·cent [dih-MUHL-suh-nt]

1. (adj.) soothing or mollifying, as a medicinal substance.
2. (n.) a demulcent substance or agent, often mucilaginous, as for soothing or protecting an irritated mucous membrane.

The dog was licking a spot on the carpet with vigorous determination. It was like a calling for the dog, a destiny in the process of being realized, as if this one spot of carpet contained every truth and note of fulfillment the dog had ever sought, and if he could just lick his way through to the floor below, all would be answered, all would be known, and nothing beyond that point would ever matter, because the journey of the dog would be complete.

And Tom stared at the dog almost as vigorously, except that he didn’t have the energy to be vigorous about anything. A stare can be passive or aggressive or at times a bit of both, and at that moment, Tom’s passivity was well encapsulated within a vacuum of aggressive thoughts, of an overall sense of resentment, directed most generally at the universe and more specifically misdirected at his dear Mary who had decided she’d had enough of him about a week before, his dear Mary, who had taken everything that had ever mattered to him with her, leaving the dog behind.

“Helluva a way to do it, huh?” he asked the dog, but the dog went on licking.

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bil·ious [BIL-yuhs]

1. (adj.) pertaining to bile or to an excess secretion of bile.
2. (adj.) peevish; irritable, cranky.
3. (adj.) extremely unpleasant or distasteful.

Carl was having trouble opening the jar of pickles. He tried everything: tapping the edges of the lid with a butter knife, running hot water over it, wrapping it in a towel, but again and again, he would strain against it with his dry, knobby paws and the lid would not yield. So he set the jar on the counter and took a seat in the kitchen, panting slightly, his face flushed and pink, and even though he lived alone he took a look around to make sure no one had been watching.

And what he finally decided to do was return the pickles to the grocery store for a refund.

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in·cip·i·ent [in-SIP-ee-uh nt]

(adj.) beginning to exist or appear; in an initial stage.

She had only just noticed that he would tip his spoon and pour all the milk back into the bowl before taking a bite of cereal. It seemed such a glaring thing to her all of a sudden, a resounding klaxon of idiocy.

"Why don’t you just eat your cereal dry if you don’t want the milk?" she asked him one morning, when she finally couldn’t take it any more.

He looked up at her, more confused than affronted despite the splinter of accusation in her tone. “Huh?”

"Your spoon. Every bite you pour the milk out. So why don’t you just eat it dry?"

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ex·pro·pri·ate [ek-SPROH-pree-ayt]
1. To deprive of possession.
2. To transfer (the property of another) to oneself.

The alley was one of the more disreputable places in town, and Tobin felt like a right proper hood standing towards the back of it in the recessed alcove of an old emergency exit behind the bank. It was a downtown alley near the marina, and it was popular with a clueless subset of the population because it offered a short cut through the ranks of tiny shops and cozy restaurants to the beach. But it was also known by a good majority of the local populace as a short cut not worth taking, because unfortunate things tended to happen there, not always violent but unfortunate none-the-less. The most highly profiled of these events was when the mayor happened to venture down the alley with a seventeen-year-old prostitute, only to be followed in at the most inopportune time by a journalism student wielding a camera and a sense of social justice. That event stuck prominently in the memory of the townsfolk, but other than that and a few other vaguely recalled incidents, no one could specifically say why it was that they didn’t want to travel down the alley, other than that in a general way it felt like a bad place to be, best avoided in favor of the longer, more daylit path to the beach.

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