Big Book Glossary

In an attempt to discover the meanings of the words used in our basic text book Alcoholics Anonymous when it was written, we have used many sources for this glossary. Our primary source was Webster’s Daily Use Dictionary, published in 1934.

For the historical references we used the World Book Encyclopedia and Encarta Encyclopedia. Because our language has changed much since our “Big Book” was written, and because the book’s purpose is to explain “precisely how we have recovered”, we believe it is important to understand what the words meant when they were written, not how they have been filtered by our society today.

This glossary is not complete by any means, but is meant to be helpful. It is best to print the printable version on “legal”  (8.5×14) paper.





Abandon To give oneself over to a feeling or emotion without restraint or control.
Abjectly Worthless; low; in a sunken or degraded condition.
Abstain or Abstinence To refrain voluntarily from an action especially from eating some foods or from intoxicating
Ad Infinitum Without end or limit
Agnostic One who denies that man possesses any knowledge of the ultimate nature of things.
Allergy A condition of heightened susceptibility to a substance that when taken in similar amounts is innocuous (harmless) to a majority of the same group.
Alloy A substance composed of two or more metals or materials.
Altruistic The principle involving the sacrifice of self in the interest of others.
Amend To change or modify for the better. To put right.
Annihilation Reduce to nothing, wipe out of existence, destroy.
Antagonism Actively expressed opposition, hostility or antipathy.
Antipathy Natural aversion. An instinctive dislike.
Armistice Day Used before the official adoption of “Veteran’s Day” in 1954. Refers to the end of WW I.
Ascertained To make certain; find out or determine definitely by test or examination.
Askance With disapproval or distrust.
Atheist One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God
Augury The art or practice of foretelling events. A prediction.
Avocation 1) A subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation or job. 2) Diversion or
Homemade liquor produced in a home still or kitchen during Prohibition period of 1920 through 1933 (See Prohibition).
Bedevilment State of being bewilderingly disordered or confused.
Belladonna A medicinal extract from a European poisonous plant.
Bout Outbreak. Attack
Brainstorm A state of cerebral excitement due to continued nerve strain causing temporary mental derangement.
Calamity A state of deep distress or misery caused by major misfortune or loss.
Capitulate To surrender to an enemy on conditions agreed upon.
Chicanery Deception by artful evasion or escape. Trick.
Cipher An insignificant thing or individual. Non-entity
Commence To have a beginning. Start.
Commendable Worthy of confidence or notice. Praise
Concede To acknowledge grudgingly.
Conception The process of forming or understanding ideas or abstractions. A general idea.
Confidential Private. Secret
Consternation Amazement or dismay that hinders or throws into confusion
Constitutionally (incapable) Relating to, inherent in, or affecting the fundamental makeup of something or someone.
Contention (Contentious) Contest. Debate.
Contingent Dependent on or conditioned by something else.
Controversy A discussion marked
especially by expression of opposing views. Dispute. Quarrel.
Conviction The state of being convinced of error or compelled to admit the truth. A strong persuasion
or belief.
Countenance The whole form; appearance; support
Crux Unresolved question. Puzzling or difficult problem.
Debris The remains of something broken down or destroyed.
Diffident Lacking self-reliance
Diligently Characterized by steady, earnest and energetic application and effort.
Disconcerted To throw into confusion. To disturb.
Debacle A flood carrying masses of debris. Ruin.
Debauch 1) To lead away from virtue or excellence. 2) To corrupt by intemperance. (see Temperance)
Delirium tremens A mental disturbance characterized by confusion, disordered speech and hallucinations coupled with violent tremors induced by excessive and prolonged use of alcoholic liquors.
Delusion A false belief regarding self that persists despite the facts.
Demoralization To destroy the normal functioning. To throw into disorder.
Denizen An inhabitant. Citizen.
Deportment Behavior
Doggerel A kind of verse devoid of sense or rhythm.
Dubious Of doubtful promise or uncertain outcome. Questionable as to value, quality or origin.
Earnestness In serious reality. Serious in speech or action.
Erstwhile Formerly
Egocentric Limited in outlook or concern to one’s own activities or needs.
Emphatically Expressing oneself in forceful speech or take decisive action.
Epoch A point of time from which succeeding years are reckoned. Era. Date.
Evangelist One who has militant or crusading zeal.
Fallacious Deceptive.
Fatal Causing death. Bringing ruin.
Fellowship Community of interest, activity, feeling or experience.
Fettered To be confined or restricted. To restrained from action. Confined. Hampered
Frothy Empty. Frivolous.
Gorge Mass of matter that chokes up a passage.
Immutable Unchangeable. Invariable. Unalterable. Permanent
Immune (Immunity) Exempt. Not susceptible or responsive to something.
Imperious Domineering. Dictatorial. Overbearing.
Impunity Exemption or freedom from punishment, harm or loss.
Incomprehensible Incapable of being understood. Unintelligible
Indignant Filled with or marked by anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy or mean
Inexplicable Incapable of being explained, interpreted or accounted for.
Intimated Communicate indirectly. Hint.
Keystone Central stone of an arch.
Longshoreman One who is employed at a seaport to load and unload ships.
Lethargy Morbid drowsiness. Unnatural prolonged slumber.
Levity Lightness of disposition. Trifling. Gaiety
Lucrative Producing wealth. Profitable.
Lustre Brightness. Splendor.
Maelstrom A powerful, often violent whirlpool sucking in other objects.
Manifestation Clear, plain display or revelation.
Martyr One who sacrifices their life or something of great value for the sake of principle.
Materialize To come into existence. To appear suddenly.
Moral Of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.
Nadir The lowest point.
“Nip of the wringer” In the 1930’s washing machines of the day were “wringer washers” which had a tub for washing the clothes and a double roller arrangement above the tub to wring out the wet clothes (there was no “spin drying” in those days). If you got your hand in the wringer portion of the washer it hurt like the devil and could crush your hand. “Nip” refers to quickly pulling your fingers out of the wringer before it grabs your whole hand.
Obsession A persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.
Obstinate Adhering to an opinion, purpose or course in spite of reason, arguments or persuasion.
Perverse Obstinate. Untractable. Contrary.
Phenomenon A rare, significant, observable fact or event.
Plague A disastrous evil or affliction. An epidemic disease causing a high rate of death.
Pomp An ostentatious display. Pageant. Vainglory.
Prejudice Opinions formed without due knowledge or examination. “Old Ideas”.
Premeditation Consideration or planning an act beforehand that shows intent to commit that act.
Prodigious Extraordinary or monstrous in bulk, quantity or degree.
Prohibition Period in America when the manufacture, distribution or sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal. From January 1920 to December 1933.
Professor Langley’s
Flying Machine
Harvard Professor who, in 1896, became the first person to build an unmanned heavier than air flying machine. His first manned heavier than air flying machine crashed into the Potomac River (Washington DC) on December 8, 1903 – just 9 days before the Wright Brothers flight.
Prophesied To make a prediction. To speak as if divinely inspired.
Prosaic Belonging to the everyday world. Commonplace.
Queer Differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal.
Recoil To draw back because of distaste or fear. To spring back to a starting point.
Reconcile To restore to friendship or favor. Adjust.
Remonstrances A document formally stating points of opposition or grievances.
Reprieve To delay punishment. Temporary respite.
Resentment A feeling of displeasure at something regarded as a wrong, insult or injury.
Retaliate To get revenge. To repay in kind.
Robust Having or exhibiting strength or vigorous health.
Row A noisy disturbance or quarrel. Brawl.
Ruthlessly Cruel, merciless, savage or ferocious.
Schism A split or division.
Self-centered Concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs or interests.
Self-seeking To strive for or endeavor to be the subject of ones own consciousness.
Selfish Influenced by personal motives to the disregard of the welfare or wishes of others.
Servile Pertaining to, characteristic of or befitting a slave or servant. Meanly submissive.
Sordid Dirty, Filthy, wretched, squalid.
Sot A habitual drunkard.
Squander To spend wastefully or foolishly.
Tedious Tiresome because of length or dullness. Boring.
Temperance Moderation in or abstinence from the use of intoxicating drink.
Transcended To rise above or go beyond the limits of. Exceed.
Trivial Of little worth or importance. Insignificant
Trudge To walk or march steadily and carefully.
Utopia Pertaining to the imaginary island where the most perfect system of laws and institutions existed. Ideal. Visionary. Perfect.
Utterly (as in utterly
Absolute. Total
Vestige Remains of something pre-existent.
Vicissitude The quality or state of being changeable. Natural change or mutation visible in human
Virtuous Possessing or exhibiting strength or valor. Moral.
Writhing To twist with violence.