Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Arthur Miller developed his own poetic language for the play, based on what he had read in Salem documents. He wanted to make his audience feel like they were witnessing events from an earlier time, so he incorporated words like “yea,” “nay” and “goodly” into the character’s common speech.
The play’s language is complex and shows in itself the power of the spoken and written word. Consider Reverend Hale and his line about his books being “weighted with authority”.
I have made a list below of some unfamiliar terms and words.
Be hearty - be well, be healthy
Speak nothing of unnatural causes - In Salem it was thought that anything natural came from God and was good, so the opposite meant that evil and Devil were involved. Parris is fearful that people will think his daughter is involved with the Devil and his reputation will be ruined by association.
You have not opened with me - you have not told me the truth
There is a faction sworn to drive me from my pulpit - Parris is paranoid that a group of people want to get rid of him, to push him away from the Church and out of Salem. Being the minister offers him a position of power and he sees plots everywhere.
I cannot blink what I saw - I can’t pretend I didn't see it
Your name is entirely white? Parris is asking if Abigail’s reputation is “good” and “pure”. It shows the nosiness and judgemental nature of the people of Salem, the way that people are obsessed with each other’s business
There be no blush about my name - Abigail sulkily responds that she is scandal free, so she has no reason to “blush” (Spoiler alert, she’s not.)
Goody Proctor, Goody Putnam, Goody Nurse etc - Goody is the shortened term for Goodwife, the way we would use Mrs today
How high did she fly - Ann Putnam is determined to find a scandal and pushes the rumour that Betty was flying - it was believed all witches could fly
Providence - a godsend, it is fortunate. Thomas Putnam believes God alerted them to witches so that the town could do something about it.
forked and hoofed - describing the devil, the imagery brings to mind pitchforks or forked tails and cloven or goats feet
Aye mum - Yes madam, yes ma’am
What a grand peeping courage you have Mary Warren! [spoken by Mercy Lewis to Mary Warren] Mercy is pointing out that while Mary was too fearful to join in their dancing and rituals, she was still involved and happy to watch others do so.
bring a pointy reckoning - Abigail is threatening a violent revenge on the girls if they tell the truth about what happened in the woods, specifically that she will stab them!
I have seen some reddish work done at night… make you wish you had never seen the sun go down - Abigail is connected to darkness and violence from the start of the play. Red could symbolise blood, sin and death.
Calumny - to make false statements with malicious intent, to spread slander.
You are no wintry man - cold and without feeling.
We never touched Abby - Proctor is not denying their affair but saying they should both act as if it never happened.
A prodigious sign - an ominous sign, of bad things to come
My Ruth is bewildered - in the sense that she is acting strangely because she has been bewitched instead of simply being confused
This society will not be a bag to swing around your head - Proctor is warning Putnam that he will not allow him to manipulate the town for his own gain. Proctor is often bold and blunt in his statements and tends to offend both Parris and Putnam.
This will set us to arguin’ again in the society and we thought to have peace this year - This shows that the town has been divided before and that people have issues with each other. It will be these past grievances that cause the townspeople to turn on each other.
There are wheels within wheels in this village and fires within fires - Ann Putnam believes there are conspiracies in the village. Indeed there are but a lot of them are caused by people like her and her husband!
We vote by name not by acreage - Proctor wants to live in a community where everyone has equal say, no matter how much property they own. There are others in town who disagree with him (eg Thomas Putnam)
Many that quail to bring their children - Parents are afraid to bring their children to Parris’ services as it will be too upsetting for them. Puritan ministers could sometimes speak for up to four hours (!) and no one was allowed to leave or fall asleep.
There is either obedience or the church will burn - Parris believes that religion is not supported through faith but by complete, unquestioning obedience.
I’ll clap a writ on you Corey! Thomas Putnam is threatening Giles Corey here, threatening to have him arrested and taken to court.
Beyond our ken - out of reach of our knowledge
Incubi, succubi - demons
Licentious people - immoral, “bad” people for example Sarah Good is the town drunk.
Perhaps some bird invisible to others comes to you - witches were believed to be served by animal shaped spirits. (Note: Hale suggests an invisible bird and this will be important later.)
In nomine Domini Saboath sui filiique ite ad infernos - Latin for “In the name of the Lord and his son, depart to Hell.” Hale is calling on God and Jesus to exorcise the spirit of evil out of Betty.
Any living thing in the kettle - a cooking pot would have been referred to as a kettle and Hale is concerned the girls were making witch potions with living creatures inside. (Note everyone’s horror when Abby mentions the frog)
She makes me drink blood - Abigail connected to blood again. Betty already mentioned that Abigail drank the blood potion to kill John Proctor’s wife. Here Abigail blames this on Tituba
I don’t truck with no Devil - I am not in league with the devil
Did you ever see Sarah Good or Osborne with him? The men are putting ideas into the girls heads, the interrogator suggests a name and they go along with it, to rid themselves of blame.
I’ll call the marshal - Abigail suggests calling the law to arrest the people they've named. This shows how much influence and power she has already.