Chapters 1–6

This groundbreaking book, published in the early 1960s, investigated the devastating effects of chemical pesticides on the environment. Carson's work is credited with helping to create the Environmental Protection Agency.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. malady
    impairment of normal physiological function
    Some evil spell had settled on the community: mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died.
  2. moribund
    being on the point of death
    The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly.
  3. lethal
    of an instrument of certain death
    The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials.
  4. sinister
    threatening or foreshadowing evil or tragic developments
    In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world — the very nature of its life.
  5. alchemy
    a pseudoscientific forerunner of chemistry in medieval times
    Or they pass mysteriously by underground streams until they emerge and, through the alchemy of air and sunlight, combine into new forms that kill vegetation, sicken cattle, and work unknown harm on those who drink from once pure wells.
  6. impetuous
    characterized by undue haste and lack of thought
    The rapidity of change and the speed with which new situations are created follow the impetuous and heedless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature.
  7. vernacular
    the everyday speech of the people
    Since the mid-1940’s over 200 basic chemicals have been created for use in killing insects, weeds, rodents, and other organisms described in the modern vernacular as “pests”; and they are sold under several thousand different brand names.
  8. immune
    of the condition in which an organism can resist disease
    This has happened because insects, in a triumphant vindication of Darwin’s principle of the survival of the fittest, have evolved super races immune to the particular insecticide used, hence a deadlier one has always to be developed — and then a deadlier one than that.
  9. mutation
    any event that changes genetic structure
    But we may easily be doing so now by inadvertence, for many chemicals, like radiation, bring about gene mutations.
  10. corruption
    decay of matter (as by rot or oxidation)
    Such thinking, in the words of the ecologist Paul Shepard, “idealizes life with only its head out of water, inches above the limits of toleration of the corruption of its own environment . . .
  11. tolerate
    withstand a poison or strong drug or pathogen or condition
    Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity?
  12. engender
    call forth
    The crusade to create a chemically sterile, insect-free world seems to have engendered a fanatic zeal on the part of many specialists and most of the so-called control agencies.
  13. epidemic
    a widespread outbreak of an infectious disease
    Epidemics of chronic arsenical poisoning involving whole populations over long periods are on record.
  14. equilibrium
    a stable situation in which forces cancel one another
    On the other hand, Dr. Wayland Hayes of the United States Public Health Service contends that in every individual a point of equilibrium is reached, and that DDT in excess of this amount is excreted.
  15. embryo
    an animal organism in the early stages of growth
    In experimental animals the chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides freely cross the barrier of the placenta, the traditional protective shield between the embryo and harmful substances in the mother’s body.
  16. malaria
    a disease caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite
    As soon as dieldrin was substituted for DDT in malaria-control work (because the malaria mosquitoes had become resistant to DDT), cases of poisoning among the spraymen began to occur.
  17. progenitor
    an ancestor in the direct line
    It makes the progenitor of all this group of insecticides, DDT, seem by comparison almost harmless.
  18. ephemeral
    anything short-lived, as an insect that lives only for a day
    Indeed, its existence is so ephemeral that medical researchers are unable, without special procedures, to sample it before the body has destroyed it.
  19. bellicose
    having or showing a ready disposition to fight
    Honeybees become “wildly agitated and bellicose” on contact with it, perform frantic cleaning movements, and are near death within half an hour.
  20. antidote
    a remedy that stops or controls the effects of a poison
    Paralysis followed so instantaneously that he could not reach the antidotes he had prepared at hand, and so he died.
  21. parasite
    an animal or plant that lives in or on a host
    Use of animal systemics has concentrated chiefly on control of the cattle grub, a damaging parasite of livestock.
  22. disseminate
    cause to become widely known
    The legend that the herbicides are toxic only to plants and so pose no threat to animal life has been widely disseminated, but unfortunately it is not true.
  23. malignant
    dangerous to health
    Some are general poisons, some are powerful stimulants of metabolism, causing a fatal rise in body temperature, some induce malignant tumors either alone or in partnership with other chemicals, some strike at the genetic material of the race by causing gene mutations.
  24. insidious
    working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way
    While the results of weed killers such as sodium arsenite or the phenols are grossly obvious, some other herbicides are more insidious in their effects.
  25. inextricably
    in a manner incapable of being disentangled or untied
    When inextricably mixed with domestic and other wastes discharged into the same water, these chemicals sometimes defy detection by the methods in ordinary use by purification plants.
  26. plankton
    aggregate of small organisms that float or drift in water
    Fish from the lakes were also found to contain insecticides; so did samples of plankton.
  27. turbid
    clouded as with sediment
    Clear Lake lies in mountainous country some 90 miles north of San Francisco and has long been popular with anglers. The name is inappropriate, for actually it is a rather turbid lake because of the soft black ooze that covers its shallow bottom.
  28. accumulation
    an increase by natural growth or addition
    Plankton organisms were found to contain about 5 parts per million of the insecticide (about 25 times the maximum concentration ever reached in the water itself); plant-eating fishes had built up accumulations ranging from 40 to 300 parts per million; carnivorous species had stored the most of all.
  29. herbivore
    any animal that feeds chiefly on grass and other plants
    It was a house-that-Jack-built sequence, in which the large carnivores had eaten the smaller carnivores, that had eaten the herbivores, that had eaten the plankton, that had absorbed the poison from the water.
  30. fauna
    all the animal life in a particular region or period
    Mosses took hold in the little pockets of simple soil — soil formed by crumbling bits of lichen, by the husks of minute insect life, by the debris of a fauna beginning its emergence from the sea.
  31. staggering
    so surprisingly impressive as to stun or overwhelm
    The truly staggering task of dealing with the tremendous amount of plant material in the annual leaf fall belongs to some of the small insects of the soil and the forest floor.
  32. macerate
    soften and cause to disintegrate as a result
    They macerate and digest the leaves, and aid in mixing the decomposed matter with the surface soil.
  33. eradication
    the complete destruction of every trace of something
    Yet the program of sage eradication has been under way for a number of years.
  34. appalling
    causing shock, dismay, or horror
    Justice William O. Douglas, in his recent book My Wilderness: East to Katahdin, has told of an appalling example of ecological destruction wrought by the United States Forest Service in the Bridger National Forest in Wyoming.
  35. conifer
    a type of tree or shrub bearing cones
    An unknown but very large acreage of timber-producing lands is now aerially sprayed in order to “weed out” the hardwoods from the more spray-resistant conifers.
  36. blithely
    in a joyous, carefree, or unconcerned manner
    The “agricultural engineers” speak blithely of “chemical plowing” in a world that is urged to beat its plowshares into spray guns.
  37. desecration
    blasphemous behavior
    One of the conservationists wrote of that August pilgrimage to a Maine island: “I returned . . . angry at the desecration of the Maine roadsides. Where, in previous years, the highways were bordered with wildflowers and attractive shrubs, there were only the scars of dead vegetation for mile after mile.
  38. dearth
    an insufficient quantity or number
    There is no dearth of men who understand these things, but these are not the men who order the wholesale drenching of the landscape with chemicals.
  39. hazard
    a source of danger
    Other hazards, more obscure, may also attend the use of 2,4-D.
  40. chromosome
    a threadlike strand of DNA that carries genes
    It has been shown experimentally to disturb the basic physiological process of respiration in the cell, and to imitate X-rays in damaging the chromosomes.
Created on May 13, 2016 (updated September 20, 2018)

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