A Few Kind Words for Superstition

Unit Three A Few Kind Words for
Robertson Davies
Pre-reading Questions
1: Give an example of superstition either handed down
from one’s family tradition or arising from your own
mind or from other sources, and explain the irrationality in it.
2: Why do some people still cling to superstition handed down
through the centuries?
3:Do you believe in ghosts?
4: Do you hold the mass culture belief that Zodiac sign may
influence your personality? What sign of the zodiac were you
born under? Does your personality resemble some of the typical
traits of your zodiac sign?
Robertson Davies
William Robertson
Davies, (August 28,
1913 – December 2,
1995) was a Canadian
novelist, playwright,
critic, journalist, and
professor. He was one of
Canada's best-known and
most popular authors.
Look at: view or regard sth
The Americans look at life differently from the British.
Looked at from that point of view, the job becomes
closely:adv in a close manner
listen closely, ie carefully
Be familiar (to sb): well known (to sb); often seen or
facts that are familiar to every schoolboy
The smell is very familiar to everyone who lives near a
take the time: to make the effort to do something:
She didn't even take the time to wish me good morning.
label sb/sth as sth(fig) describe or classify sb/sth
His work is difficult to label accurately.
She is usually labelled (as) an Impressionist.
The newspapers had unjustly labelled him a
The regime was inevitably labelled as 'communist'.
Rational: not foolish or absurd; sensible; reasonable
rational conduct
a rational argument, explanation, solution, etc
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1: what is the common assumption about
people who believe in superstition? How does
the author discredit this assumption?
2: Explain “instant enlightenment.”
3: explain “an unacknowledged hold on so many
of us.”
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Renaissance: a situation when there is new interest in a particular
subject, form of art, etc. after a period when it was not very
Synonym: REVIVAL
The British film industry is currently enjoying something of a
Figure: be important figure (as sth) (in / among sth)
Environmental issues figured prominently in the talks.
Reform now figures high on the agenda.
The question of the peace settlement is likely to figure
prominently in the talks.
My feelings about the matter didn't seem to figure at all.
Paraphrase: “In grave discussions….reason or science.”
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Paraphrase: In serious discussions of “the renaissance
of the irrational”in our time, people don’t think that
superstition is a great threat to reason or science.
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parapsychology:noun [uncount]the study of unusual
mental abilities that cannot be explained by traditional
science such as knowing what will happen in the
future,telepathy and psychokinesis
transcendental meditation:a method of calming the
mind and becoming relaxed by silently repeating a
special word or series of words many times
超在禅定派 [Transcendental Meditation (TM)]
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deplore :v [Tn] be shocked or offended by (sth);
She deplored his scandalous actions.
Like everyone else, I deplore and condemn this killing.
unacknowledged :adj not fully recognized or
an unacknowledged master of his craft
Her contribution to the research went largely
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hold (on/over sb/sth)influence
He has a tremendous hold over his younger brother.
Admit to: ~ to sth/doing sth recognize or acknowledge
sth as true, often reluctantly; confess sth
George would never admit to being wrong.
I reluctantly admitted to being nervous about the test.
naivete [nɑ:'i:vtei] == naivety n[U]
dangerous political naivety
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manifestation: A manifestation of something is one of the
different ways in which it can appear. (FORMAL)
Different animals in the colony had different manifestations of
the disease.
=demonstration, display, exhibit, exhibition, show.
Alive:active; lively
You seem very much alive today.
flourishing: mproving, growing, or succeeding steadily:
=booming, boomy, prospering, prosperous, roaring, thrifty,
indisputable :that cannot be disputed or denied
indisputably the best tennis player in the world
This painting is indisputably one of his finest works.
learned : a learned person knows a lot about one or more
subjects, especially academic subjects:
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1: What does the author imply when he says “ he
did not smile until I asked him what he was
2: How do you understand “ with a wink”?
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theologians: A theologian is someone who studies the nature of
God, religion, and religious beliefs.
observance: [U] ~ (of sth) keeping or observing a law, custom,
festival, holiday, etc
the observance of school rules
the observance of New Year's Day as a public holiday.
1: useless or futile
a vain attempt
in the vain hope of persuading him
2: having too high an opinion of one's looks, abilities, etc;
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1: Explain" a humble appeal to Fate to declare itself."
2: How should the expression "Almost, but not quite"
be interpreted in its context?
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divination n [U] foretelling the future by supernatural
oracle 1: In ancient Greece, an oracle was a priest or
priestess who made statements about future events or
about the truth.
2: person considered able to give reliable advice
My sister's the oracle on beauty matters.
Scorn: to feel or show that you think sb/sth is stupid
and you do not respect them or it.
She scorned all my offers of help.
Such methods are scorned by reputable practitioners.
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toss: If you toss something somewhere, you throw it
there lightly, often in a rather careless way.
He screwed the paper into a ball and tossed it into the
He tossed Malone a can of beer, and took one himself.
humble 1: not proud and not thinking you are better
than other people
He was a genuinely humble man.
2:simple and with only basic equipment or features
They lived in a humble two-roomed apartment.
Paraphrase: Another learned professor...tossing a
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Paraphrase: Another knowledgeable professor I know,
who would sneer at solving a problem by tossing a coin.
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appeal:[n]appeal (to sb) (for sth)
request for help or sympathy
Her eyes held a look of silent appeal.
appeal to sb to do sth
an appeal to the army to not use too much force
resolve: solve or settle (problems, doubts, etc)
resolve an argument, a difficulty, a crisis
Her arrival did little to resolve the situation.
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I Ching :an ancient Chinese book, also known as the
Book of Changes, which some people believe helps you
to understand events happening in your life and tells
you what will happen in the future. To use the I Ching,
you throw a set of sticks or coins, and the patterns that
they make are connected to specific parts of the book
which explain the meaning of each pattern.
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absolve :to say publicly that someone is not guilty or
responsible for something
absolve sb from/of sth
He cannot be absolved of all responsibility for the
The report absolves the pilot from any blame for the
rationalist: If you describe someone as rationalist, you
mean that their beliefs are based on reason and logic
rather than emotion or religion.
Paraphrase: there are thousands of people...absolve
them of superstition.
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there are thousands of people on this continent
who are fascinated by the I Ching,and their level
of education seems high enough to free them
from superstition.
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1: Why did the examination candidates have the third
form of superstition?
2: Why did the engineering student tuck a $2 bill under
a candlestick in the chapel?
3: Explain" modest idolatry".
4: Explain" he did not think he was pricing God cheap."
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idolatry:1:Worship of idols.
2:Blind or excessive devotion to something.
juju:a type of magic from West Africa that uses
objects with special powers
modest:not very large, expensive, important,
modest improvements / reforms
He charged a relatively modest fee.
The research was carried out on a modest scale.
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oxymoron:a figure of speech which combines two
words that seem to be the opposite of each other to
produce a special effect.
An oxymoron can be formed through the following
1: adj. + n.
Proud humility
Painful pleasure
A thunderous silence
A cheerful pessimist
A living death
She read the long-awaited letter with a tearful smile.
The mother is undergoing the joyful pain, and the
painful joy of childbirth.
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2: adj.+ adj.
Sour-sweet days
3: adv. + adj.
A wisely stupid idea
Falsely true words
4: n.+n.
A love-hate relationship
5: adv. + present participle
Changelessly changing
6: v. + adv.
Shine darkly
Groan loudly
7: of-phrase
The feather of lead
Bitter-sweet memories
A mercifully fatal blow
A life-and-death struggle
Die merrily
The sound of silence
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Tuck: to put sth into a small space, especially to hide it or keep it
safe or comfortable:
She tucked her hair (up) under her cap.
The letter had been tucked under a pile of papers.
She took off her glasses and tucked them in her pocket.
Tuck your gloves in your pocket so that you don't lose them.
Eventually I found the certificate tucked under a pile of old
Tuck your chair in (= put it so that the seat of it is under the
table) so that no one trips over it.
altar: a holy table in a church or TEMPLE
chapel :[C]a small building or room used for Christian worship
a school, prison, large private house, etc
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bribery :noun[U]Bribery is the act of offering someone
money or something valuable in order to persuade them
to do something for you.
She was arrested on bribery charges.
allegations of bribery and corruption
He was jailed on charges of bribery
We tried everything - persuasion, bribery, threats.
deity n (a) [C] god or goddess
Roman deities
Paraphrase: Investigation ... help.
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Investigation disclosed that a student majoring in
engineering, worried about a girl, thought God
might help him if he could offer Him money.
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1: Tell us the main idea of this paragraph.
2: Explain "a submerged river of crude
religion",its figure of speech and inner meaning.
3: What does the author say about the Latin word
supersisto in relation with human psychology?
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submerged1: If something is submerged, it is below the
surface of some water.
My right toe struck against a submerged rock.
2: hidden, suppressed,obscure
submerged emotions
personal lives submerged by professional responsibilities
crude: simple and not very accurate
In crude terms, the causes of mental illness seem to be of
three main kinds.
chronicle: a written record of historical events.
a chronicle of the French Revolution
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bounds: [plural] limits that affect and control what can
happen or what people are able to do
within bounds:
Students are allowed, within reasonable bounds, to use
calculators in class.
within the bounds of something:
a decision that is not within the bounds of the mayor's
We are here to make sure that the police operate within the
bounds of the law.
beyond/outside the bounds of something:
investment advice that goes beyond the bounds of good
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root sth out:destroy sth completely
determined to root out corruption
Mr. Smith has been appointed to root out
cheating in the examinations.
Paraphrase: Most people...want to do so.
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Most people can control their terror, but they
cannot get rid of it, and they don't seem to
want to do so.
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1: Explain "the teaching of formal religion takes a
sociological form".
2: Tell us the main idea of this paragraph.
3: Why does the author mention the psychoanalysts?
4: explain " calling a superstition a compulsion neurosis
does not banish it".
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resume :if you resume an activity, or if it resumes, it
begins again or continues after an interruption
to resume talks / negotiations
She resumed her career after an interval of six years.
[V -ing] He got back in the car and resumed driving.
watchful :paying attention to what is happening in case
of danger, accidents, etc
Her expression was watchful and alert.
The children played under the watchful eye of their
minatory:adj (fml ) threatening
minatory actions, gestures, etc .
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placate: v [T] to make someone stop feeling angry
These changes did little to placate the unions.
He smiled, trying to placate me...
Calm down pacify
Cajole:If you cajole someone into doing something,
you get them to do it after persuading them for some
time.by pleasant talk and (sometimes false) promises
It was he who had cajoled Garland into doing the film.
He cajoled Mr Dobson to stand for mayor.
He really knows how to cajole people into doing what
he wants.
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unbidden:(usually used after the verb) without
being asked, invited or expected
He walked into the room unbidden.
The memories came back to her unbidden and
devout:adj sincerely religious; pious
a devout Muslim, prayer
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson,often referred to as
Dr Johnson, was an English author
who made lasting contributions to
English literature as a poet, essayist,
moralist, literary critic, biographer,
editor and lexicographer.
After nine years of work, Johnson's
A Dictionary of the English Language
was published in 1755; it had a farreaching effect on Modern English
and has been described as "one of
the greatest single achievements of
scholarship."This work brought
Johnson popularity and success.
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psychoanalyst: A psychoanalyst is someone who treats people
who have mental problems using psychoanalysis.
Compulsion: a strong desire to do sth, especially sth that is
wrong, silly or dangerous
He felt a great compulsion to drive too fast.
Obsessions and compulsions often develop in people who live
stressful lives.
neurosis :mental illness that causes depression or abnormal
behaviour, often with physical symptoms but with no sign of
banish: If you banish something unpleasant, you get rid of it.
a public investment programme intended to banish the recession.
Our new cream can help banish acne and smooth away your
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1: How does the author prove that people of all races
are superstitious?
2: What does the author mention astrology?
3: Which of the four forms of superstition does the case
of Dr. Samuel Johnson belong to ?
4: Explain" When has the heart of men given a damn
for science?"
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A depth of : the great strength of a feeling:
I found it hard to understand the depth of her
love for this man.
Orthodox: accepting and obeying traditional
religious beliefs and practices
Charm: object worn because it is believed to
protect the wearer and bring good luck
doorpost:one of the two upright pieces of
wood at the sides of a door
paraphrase: Many superstitions ...race or creed
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Many superstitions are so common and so old
that they must have been deeply rooted in the
human mind. They have nothing to do with race
or religious belief.
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sneeze:make a sneeze
With all that dust about, he couldn't stop sneezing.
hasten: If you hasten to do something, you are quick to do it.
Scientists have hastened to challenge his findings.
lest: for fear that, in case
Helen turned the radio down lest she should miss the phone
She turned away from the window lest anyone see them.
He gripped his brother's arm lest he be trampled by the mob.
Lest anyone should doubt my story, I have brought documents
to attest to its truth.
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come by sth:to manage to get sth
Jobs are hard to come by these days.
Antedate:be before (sth/sb) in time
This event antedates the discovery of America by several
Charity: society or organization for helping the needy
Many charities sent money to help the victims of the famine.
proliferate :to increase rapidly in number or amount
Books and articles on the subject have proliferated over the last
Small businesses have proliferated in the last ten years.
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astrology:the study of the movement of the stars and
planets and how some people think they influence
people's characters and lives
sober: A sober person is serious and thoughtful.
We are now far more sober and realistic.
Scorn: to refuse to have or do sth because you are too
scorn to ask for help
He scorns telling lies.
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philter ['filtə] n. a magic drink that makes someone fall in love
count sb/sth among sb/sth:be regarded/regard sb/sth
as one of the stated group
I no longer count him among my friends.
He counts John Lennon among his musical influences.
Feature: (in newspapers, television, etc) special or prominent
article or programme (about sb/sth)
This magazine will be running a special feature on
education next week.
discredit: v [Tn]damage the good reputation of (sb/sth)
The Government was discredited by the scandal.
Paraphrase: The fashion magazines...popular features.
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Paraphrase: Astrology columns are considered
one of the highlights of the fashion magazines.
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yearning :~ (for sb/sth)~ (to do sth)
a strong and emotional desire
a yearning for a quiet life
She had no great yearning to go back.
have/take a hand in sth: participate in sth;
be partly responsible for sth
I bet he had a hand in it.
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What does the author mean by "now I am
humbler" after he relates his personal
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keep/hold/stand aloof from sb/sth:take no part in sth;
show no friendship towards sb
He stood aloof from the crowd.
The Emperor kept himself aloof from the people.
The Government is keeping aloof from the
humanity :[U] human beings collectively; the human
race; people
gypsy :a member of a race of people, originally from
Asia, who travel around and traditionally live in
CARAVANS. Many people prefer to use the name
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swarthy:(especially of a person or their face)
having dark skin
a swarthy complexion / face / man
Paraphrase: I am ...different from others.
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As far as superstition is concerned, I am not
much different from others.
Thank You