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For the historical references we used the World Book Encyclopedia and Encarta Encyclopedia.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.

Download printable version


(click a letter to scroll to that section below)


To give oneself over to a feeling or emotion without restraint or control.
AbjectlyWorthless; low; in a sunken or degraded condition.
Abstain or AbstinenceTo refrain voluntarily from an action especially from eating some foods or from intoxicating
Ad InfinitumWithout end or limit
AgnosticOne who denies that man possesses any knowledge of the ultimate nature of things.
AllergyA condition of heightened susceptibility to a substance that when taken in similar amounts is innocuous (harmless) to a majority of the same group.
AlloyA substance composed of two or more metals or materials.
AltruisticThe principle involving the sacrifice of self in the interest of others.
AmendTo change or modify for the better. To put right.
AnnihilationReduce to nothing, wipe out of existence, destroy.
AntagonismActively expressed opposition, hostility or antipathy.
AntipathyNatural aversion. An instinctive dislike.
Armistice DayUsed before the official adoption of “Veteran’s Day” in 1954. Refers to the end of WW I.
AscertainedTo make certain; find out or determine definitely by test or examination.
AskanceWith disapproval or distrust.
AtheistOne who disbelieves or denies the existence of God
AuguryThe art or practice of foretelling events. A prediction.
Avocation1) A subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation or job. 2) Diversion or distraction.

Bathtub Gin

Homemade liquor produced in a home still or kitchen during Prohibition period of 1920 through 1933 (See Prohibition).
BedevilmentState of being bewilderingly disordered or confused.
BelladonnaA medicinal extract from a European poisonous plant.
BoutOutbreak. Attack
BrainstormA state of cerebral excitement due to continued nerve strain causing temporary mental derangement.


A state of deep distress or misery caused by major misfortune or loss.
CapitulateTo surrender to an enemy on conditions agreed upon.
ChicaneryDeception by artful evasion or escape. Trick.
CipherAn insignificant thing or individual. Non-entity
CommenceTo have a beginning. Start.
CommendableWorthy of confidence or notice. Praise
ConcedeTo acknowledge grudgingly.
ConceptionThe process of forming or understanding ideas or abstractions. A general idea.
ConfidentialPrivate. Secret
ConsternationAmazement 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.
ContingentDependent on or conditioned by something else.
ControversyA discussion marked especially by expression of opposing views. Dispute. Quarrel.
ConvictionThe state of being convinced of error or compelled to admit the truth. A strong persuasion or belief.
CountenanceThe whole form; appearance; support
CruxUnresolved question. Puzzling or difficult problem.


The remains of something broken down or destroyed.
DiffidentLacking self-reliance
DiligentlyCharacterized by steady, earnest and energetic application and effort.
DisconcertedTo throw into confusion. To disturb.
DebacleA flood carrying masses of debris. Ruin.
Debauch1) To lead away from virtue or excellence. 2) To corrupt by intemperance. (see Temperance)
Delirium tremensA mental disturbance characterized by confusion, disordered speech and hallucinations coupled with violent tremors induced by excessive and prolonged use of alcoholic liquors.
DelusionA false belief regarding self that persists despite the facts.
DemoralizationTo destroy the normal functioning. To throw into disorder.
DenizenAn inhabitant. Citizen.
DoggerelA kind of verse devoid of sense or rhythm.
DubiousOf doubtful promise or uncertain outcome. Questionable as to value, quality or origin.


In serious reality. Serious in speech or action.
EgocentricLimited in outlook or concern to one’s own activities or needs.
EmphaticallyExpressing oneself in forceful speech or take decisive action.
EpochA point of time from which succeeding years are reckoned. Era. Date.
EvangelistOne who has militant or crusading zeal.


FatalCausing death. Bringing ruin.
FellowshipCommunity of interest, activity, feeling or experience.
FetteredTo be confined or restricted. To restrained from action. Confined. Hampered
FrothyEmpty. Frivolous.


Mass of matter that chokes up a passage.


Unchangeable. Invariable. Unalterable. Permanent
Immune (Immunity)Exempt. Not susceptible or responsive to something.
ImperiousDomineering. Dictatorial. Overbearing.
ImpunityExemption or freedom from punishment, harm or loss.
IncomprehensibleIncapable of being understood. Unintelligible
IndignantFilled with or marked by anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy or mean
InexplicableIncapable of being explained, interpreted or accounted for.
IntimatedCommunicate indirectly. Hint.


Central stone of an arch.


One who is employed at a seaport to load and unload ships.
LethargyMorbid drowsiness. Unnatural prolonged slumber.
LevityLightness of disposition. Trifling. Gaiety
LucrativeProducing wealth. Profitable.
LustreBrightness. Splendor.


A powerful, often violent whirlpool sucking in other objects.
ManifestationClear, plain display or revelation.
MartyrOne who sacrifices their life or something of great value for the sake of principle.
MaterializeTo come into existence. To appear suddenly.
MoralOf or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.


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.


A persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.
ObstinateAdhering to an opinion, purpose or course in spite of reason, arguments or persuasion.


Obstinate. Untractable. Contrary.
PhenomenonA rare, significant, observable fact or event.
PlagueA disastrous evil or affliction. An epidemic disease causing a high rate of death.
PompAn ostentatious display. Pageant. Vainglory.
PrejudiceOpinions formed without due knowledge or examination. “Old Ideas”.
PremeditationConsideration or planning an act beforehand that shows intent to commit that act.
ProdigiousExtraordinary or monstrous in bulk, quantity or degree.
ProhibitionPeriod in America when the manufacture, distribution or sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal. From January 1920 to December 1933.
Professor Langley’s
Flying MachineHarvard 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.
ProphesiedTo make a prediction. To speak as if divinely inspired.
ProsaicBelonging to the everyday world. Commonplace.


Differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal.


To draw back because of distaste or fear. To spring back to a starting point.
ReconcileTo restore to friendship or favor. Adjust.
RemonstrancesA document formally stating points of opposition or grievances.
ReprieveTo delay punishment. Temporary respite.
ResentmentA feeling of displeasure at something regarded as a wrong, insult or injury.
RetaliateTo get revenge. To repay in kind.
RobustHaving or exhibiting strength or vigorous health.
RowA noisy disturbance or quarrel. Brawl.
RuthlesslyCruel, merciless, savage or ferocious.


A split or division.
Self-centeredConcerned solely with one’s own desires, needs or interests.
Self-seekingTo strive for or endeavor to be the subject of ones own consciousness.
SelfishInfluenced by personal motives to the disregard of the welfare or wishes of others.
ServilePertaining to, characteristic of or befitting a slave or servant. Meanly submissive.
SordidDirty, Filthy, wretched, squalid.
SotA habitual drunkard.
SquanderTo spend wastefully or foolishly.


Tiresome because of length or dullness. Boring.
TemperanceModeration in or abstinence from the use of intoxicating drink.
TranscendedTo rise above or go beyond the limits of. Exceed.
TrivialOf little worth or importance. Insignificant
TrudgeTo walk or march steadily and carefully.


Pertaining to the imaginary island where the most perfect system of laws and institutions existed. Ideal. Visionary. Perfect.
Utterly (as in utterly
Absolute. Total


Remains of something pre-existent.
VicissitudeThe quality or state of being changeable. Natural change or mutation visible in human
VirtuousPossessing or exhibiting strength or valor. Moral.


To twist with violence.