Module 4: "The Overcoat" by Nikolai Gogol

In this classic Russian short story, a low-level bureaucrat's life is upended when he attempts to purchase a new overcoat. Learn these words from the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
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Full list of words from this list:

  1. irascible
    characterized by anger
    There is nothing more irascible than all these departments, regiments, offices—in short, all this officialdom.
  2. tome
    a large and scholarly book
    And as proof he attached to his petition a most enormous tome of some novelistic work in which a police chief appears on every tenth page, in some places even in a totally drunken state.
  3. titular
    of or bearing an appellation signifying status or function
    As for his rank (for with us rank must be announced first of all), he was what is called an eternal titular councillor, at whom, as is known, all sorts of writers have abundantly sneered and jeered, having the praiseworthy custom of exerting themselves against those who can’t bite.
  4. despotism
    dominance through threat of punishment and violence
    His superiors treated him somehow with cold despotism.
  5. conducive
    tending to bring about; being partly responsible for
    Something sounded in it so conducive to pity that one recently appointed young man who, following the example of the others, had first allowed himself to make fun of him, suddenly stopped as if transfixed, and from then on everything seemed changed before him and acquired a different look.
  6. pert
    characterized by a lightly saucy or impudent quality
    Not once in his life did he ever pay attention to what was going on or happening every day in the street, which, as is known, his young fellow clerk always looks at, his pert gaze so keen that he even notices when someone on the other side of the street has the footstrap of his trousers come undone—which always provokes a sly smile on his face.
  7. privy
    informed about something secret or not generally known
    So flowed the peaceful life of this man who, with a salary of four hundred, was able to content himself with his lot, and so it might have flowed on into extreme old age, had it not been for the various calamities strewn along the path of life, not only of titular, but even of privy, actual, court, and other councillors, even of those who neither give counsel nor take any themselves.
  8. indiscriminate
    failing to make or recognize distinctions
    Toward nine o’clock in the morning, precisely the hour when the streets are covered with people going to their offices, it starts dealing such strong and sharp flicks to all noses indiscriminately that the poor clerks decidedly do not know where to put them.
  9. threadbare
    thin and tattered with age
    Examining it well at home, he discovered that in two or three places—namely, on the back and shoulders—it had become just like burlap; the broadcloth was so worn out that it was threadbare, and the lining had fallen to pieces.
  10. delineated
    represented accurately or precisely
    Of this tailor, of course, not much should be said, but since there exists a rule that the character of every person in a story be well delineated, there’s no help for it, let us have Petrovich here as well.
  11. serf
    a person bound to the land and owned by the feudal lord
    In the beginning he was simply called Grigory and was some squire’s serf; he began to be called Petrovich when he was freed and started drinking rather heavily on feast days—first on great feasts, and then on all church feasts indiscriminately, wherever a little cross appeared on the calendar.
  12. redolent
    having a strong pleasant odor
    Climbing the stairway leading to Petrovich, which, to do it justice, was all dressed with water and swill, and redolent throughout of that spiritous smell that makes the eyes smart and is inevitably present in all back stairways of Petersburg houses—climbing the stairway, Akaky Akakievich was thinking about how much Petrovich would ask, and mentally decided not to pay more than two roubles.
  13. confound
    be confusing or perplexing to
    He very much liked strong effects, liked somehow to confound one completely all of a sudden and then glance sideways at the face the confounded one pulls at such words.
  14. tractable
    readily reacting to suggestions and influences
    “Ah, no,” said Akaky Akakievich, “it’s impossible to talk with Petrovich now: now he’s sort of...his wife must somehow have given him a beating. I’ll do better to come to him on Sunday morning: he’ll be cockeyed and sleepy after Saturday night, and he’ll need the hair of the dog, and his wife won’t give him any money, and just then I’ll sort of...ten kopecks in his hand, he’ll be more tractable then...”
  15. applique
    a decorative design made of one material sewn over another
    Akaky Akakievich tried to mention mending again, but Petrovich did not listen to the end and said, “I’ll make you a new one without fail, please count on me for that, I’ll do my best. It may even be in today’s fashion, the collar fastened by little silver clasps with appliqué.”
  16. deftly
    with dexterity; in a dexterous manner
    Having taken out the overcoat, he looked very proud and, holding it in both hands, threw it deftly around Akaky Akakievich’s shoulders; then he pulled it down and straightened the back with his hands; then he draped it over Akaky Akakievich unbuttoned.
  17. disposition
    an attitude of mind that favors one alternative over others
    Meanwhile, Akaky Akakievich walked on in the most festive disposition of all his feelings.
  18. accost
    approach and speak to someone aggressively or insistently
    And when everyone accosted him and began saying that they should drink to the new overcoat, and that he should at least throw a party for them all, Akaky Akakievich was completely at a loss, did not know what to do, how to reply, or how to excuse himself from it.
  19. sybarite
    a person addicted to luxury and pleasures of the senses
    He dined cheerfully and wrote nothing after dinner, no documents, but just played a bit of the Sybarite in his bed until it turned dark.
  20. tarry
    stay longer than you should
    Then, without tarrying, he got dressed, put on his overcoat, and left.
  21. gilded
    made from or covered with gold
    Pedestrians flashed by more frequently, ladies began to appear, beautifully dressed, some of the men wore beaver collars, there were fewer cabbies with their wooden-grill sleds studded with gilded nails—on the contrary, coachmen kept passing in raspberry-colored velvet hats, with lacquered sleds and bearskin rugs, or carriages with decorated boxes flew down the street, their wheels shrieking over the snow.
  22. samovar
    a metal urn with a spigot at the base
    Among them, in the middle of the room, a samovar stood hissing and letting out clouds of steam.
  23. lackey
    a male servant, especially a footman
    Behind the walls, noise and talk could be heard, which suddenly became clear and loud as the door opened and a lackey came out with a tray laden with empty glasses, a pitcher of cream, and a basket of rusks.
  24. foreboding
    a feeling of evil to come
    He entered the square not without some inadvertent fear, as if his heart had a foreboding of something bad.
  25. provincial
    associated with an administrative district of a nation
    He tried, however, to increase his importance by many other means—namely, he introduced the custom of lower clerks meeting him on the stairs when he came to the office; of no one daring to come to him directly, but everything going in the strictest order: a collegiate registrar should report to a provincial secretary, a provincial secretary to a titular or whatever else, and in this fashion the case should reach him.
  26. imposing
    befitting an important, distinguished, or powerful person
    The ways and habits of the important person were imposing and majestic, but of no great complexity.
  27. intersperse
    introduce into one's writing or speech (certain expressions)
    Here it should be said that the important man was stretching it a bit: the time was good, he had long since discussed everything with his friend and their conversation had long since been interspersed with lengthy silences, while they patted each other lightly on the thigh, saying: “So there, Ivan Abramovich!”
  28. anteroom
    a large entrance or reception area
    But, for all that, he nevertheless told the clerk to wait, in order to show his friend, a man who had not been in the service and had been living for a long time on his country estate, what lengths of time clerks spent waiting in his anteroom.
  29. intercession
    the act of intervening, as to mediate a dispute
    ...the overcoat was perfectly new and he had been robbed in a brutal fashion, and that he was addressing him so that through his intercession, as it were, he could sort of write to the gentleman police superintendent or someone else and find the overcoat.
  30. poultice
    a medical dressing spread on a cloth and applied to the skin
    Owing to the generous assistance of the Petersburg climate, the illness developed more quickly than might have been expected, and when the doctor came, after feeling his pulse, he found nothing else to do but prescribe a poultice, only so as not to leave the sick man without the beneficent aid of medical science, but he nevertheless declared straight off that within a day and a half it would inevitably be kaput for him.
  31. obliquely
    at a slanting angle
    Thus they learned at the office about the death of Akaky Akakievich, and by the next day a new clerk was sitting in his place, a much taller one, who wrote his letters not in a straight hand but much more obliquely and slantwise.
  32. pretext
    a fictitious reason that conceals the real reason
    The rumor suddenly spread through Petersburg that around the Kalinkin Bridge and far further a dead man had begun to appear at night in the form of a clerk searching for some stolen overcoat and, under the pretext of this stolen overcoat, pulling from all shoulders, regardless of rank or title, various overcoats: with cat, with beaver, with cotton quilting, raccoon, fox, bearskin coats—in short, every sort of pelt and hide people have thought up for covering their own.
  33. manifestation
    a clear appearance
    He was no stranger to compassion: his heart was open to many good impulses, though his rank often prevented their manifestation.
  34. comely
    very pleasing to the eye
    Two sons, one of whom already served in the chancellery, and a comely sixteen-year-old daughter with a slightly upturned but pretty little nose, came every day to kiss his hand, saying, “Bonjour, papa.”
  35. extort
    obtain by coercion or intimidation ordinary adult pig rushing out of someone’s private house had knocked him down, to the great amusement of the coachmen standing around, for which jeering he extorted a half kopeck from each of them to buy snuff...
Created on June 15, 2020 (updated June 15, 2020)

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