Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Glossary


The following is a mixture of French terms, military vocabulary, religious vocabulary, words for old-fashioned items no longer in use, and others that will be useful in understanding the novel.

Abbé: term of respect for a male member of the clergy; or the head of a male monastery

argot: jargon or slang of a particular group or class

artillery: large guns, such as cannons

aspergillum: implement used to sprinkle holy water

barricade: improvised barrier; a fortification

buckshot: small lead balls fired from a gun

cabriolet: two-wheeled, one horse carriage (French)

caisson: container that holds ammunition and/or the vehicle used to carry the container (French)

carbine: lightweight gun (French)

carriole: horse-drawn carriage for one person (French)

cavalry: soldiers mounted on horses and carrying weapons

chasseur: light infantryman who can move quickly (French)

churchwarden: lay official (not clergy) in a church or parish who helps the priest

cloaca: cavity at the end of a digestive tract; more generally, the place (such as a sewer) into which waste is ejected

concierge: caretaker of apartments or other living quarters where more than one family lives (French)

Congress of Vienna: meeting of European leaders held after Napoleon's defeat to reestablish the balance of power among countries

cope: mantle or cloak worn by religious clergy

cuirass: armor with breastplate and backplate

cuirassier: cavalry soldier wearing armor and equipped with firearms (French)

curé: parish priest (French)

dragoon: cavalry soldier mounted on a horse (French)

dray: truck or a cart that sits low to the ground

directory: five-member committee that governed France from 1795 to 1799, after the Reign of Terror

Father: French honorific (title) for an elderly man; the title does not refer to a priest, who is called abbé

faubourg: section of Paris outside the city wall; sections of the city that could loosely be called "suburbs" (French)

fiacre: horse-drawn carriage (French)

Fiat lux: "Let there be light" (Latin)

fleur de lis: decorative symbol representing three lilies; an emblematic symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of France (French)

franc: basic denomination of currency, equal to 100 centimes (French)

gamin: child who lives in the streets; a street urchin (French)

gendarme: police officer (French)

grapeshot: clusters of iron balls fired from a cannon

grenadier: physically powerful soldier; a soldier who throws grenades (French)

grisette: young woman of the working class, such as a seamstress or factory worker (French)

guimpe: blouse or undergarment with a high neck, often worn by nuns (French)

hairshirt: garment made of rough animal hair and worn close to the skin as a penance by monks or nuns

Hoc erat in fatis: "This was bound to happen" (Latin)

hussar: soldier in a light cavalry regiment

incroyable: unbelievable (French)

inter pocula: between drinking bouts; an idiom meaning "when one gets serious" (Latin)

La Force: prison in Paris

livre: same amount of money as a franc (French)

locutory: room used in monasteries for conversation

Madame: French honorific (title) for a woman who is married or has been married; abbreviated Mme (French)

Mademoiselle: French honorific (title) for an unmarried woman of any age; abbreviated Mlle (French)

Monsieur: French honorific (title) for a man, either single or married; abbreviated M (French)

Monseigneur: French honorific (title) for a royal person or a high-ranking member of the clergy, such as a bishop

Mother: French honorific (title) for an elderly woman

mulieres: women (Latin)

musket: light gun of an infantryman

Napoleon: unit of currency equal to 20 francs (French)

non pluribus impar: "not unequal to many" (Latin)

oratory: small chapel for private worship

pistole: unit of currency equal to 10 francs (French)

porte cochère: covered entrance, often in front of a courtyard or building, where vehicles can stop to let passengers off (French)

prioress: nun in charge of a nunnery or a monastery for women

refectory: room used communally, often for dining, in a religious institution

savoyard: inhabitant or person from Savoy

sapper: soldier responsible for building and repairing as well as tearing down

shakos: tall, cylindrical military hats with visors; can be used to refer to the soldiers who wear them

sic vos non vobis: expression meaning "for you but not yours" (Latin)

sou: smallest denomination of currency mentioned in the novel, equal to five centimes (French)

spinning: police language for "searching"

te Deum: Christian hymn of praise (Latin)

tergiversation: evasion or equivocation; desertion of a cause

tilbury: open, two-wheeled carriage

toscin: alarm bell or warning signal

whiffle tree: moveable bar to which the straps of a harness are fastened so that an animal such as a horse can pull a vehicle

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