The Vocabulary of Otis

While Otis makes for a heartwarming tale, complete with life lessons, an uplifting outlook on school, and an appreciation for the environment and animals, there is yet a further purpose.  Revealing the power of the descriptive word, Otis is meant to encourage challenging vocabulary, to push the envelope of critical thinking, to inspire middle readers to learn new, wonderfully different words, to promote literacy and prompt young minds to dig deeper into the capabilities of their own imaginations.  To that end, Otis includes a glossary as a convenient resource. 

Also of note, you will find certain places, tree and plant names capitalized.  Realizing that grammatical rules suggest otherwise, important reference is given, instead, to the landmarks from Otis’s own viewpoint.

Key words with definitions, and sometimes photographs, will be posted here.  Be sure to read the excerpts as they are added as well!


About-face – a turnaround

Affirmative – a positive response, showing agreement

Amazing Grace – a Christian hymn written in 1779 by an English poet named John Newton.  The hymn shares God’s message of forgiveness and salvation for everyone.  The words to the first verse are as follows: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”

Aquamarine – a light blue-green color

Bamboo – one of the fastest growing plants in the world, and the largest species of grass-like plants.  The stalks are very tall, bright green, skinny, and hollow on the inside.  Bamboo is used for building materials as well as a food source.  Giant Panda bears in China and Lemurs in Madagascar are known for eating the leaves of this plant.


Bamboozled – confused

Beethoven – Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), German composer and pianist of the Classical and Romantic eras of music.  He is one of the most well known composers in history.

Boisterous – noisy or rowdy

Brown’s Creek – a creek in south Nashville, Tennessee, which eventually flows into the Cumberland River

Butterfly Bush – a large shrub with flowers blooming in Summer and Fall.  They come in many colors, but purple is most common.  Butterflies love to sip the nectar from the blooms.

Cacophony – harsh noise

Canine – dog-like

Capers – adventure

Cardinal – a North and South American bird known for their bright red coloring.  The showy males have a large crest on their heads, and are much brighter red than the more brownish-red females.


Chow-Chow – a strong dog breed originally from China, known for looking like a puffy lion with very thick fur.  They are also known for bluish-black tongues and curly tails.

Christopher Columbus – (1451-1506), an explorer from Europe who went on many expeditions.  He set out on the Atlantic Ocean to discover a new route to India, but instead discovered what is now known as North America.

Confiscated – to take something away as punishment

Corral – a pen or fence for cattle or horses

Corresponding – related to or similar to

Crescendo – a slow, steady increase in music to a louder sound

Daffodils – yellow flowers that grow from bulbs, blooming in early Spring.  There are many varieties.


Dandelion fluff – the many soft, white, hair-looking seed heads that bloom in a ball shape on a tall green single stem of this plant that many consider to be a weed.  Many people blow the white hairs from the stem into the wind and make a wish as they float away.

Daylily – a flowering plant with numerous long, skinny green leaves, with trumpet shaped flowers of various colors (orange is very common).  The blooms are on top of tall, thin stems, and they only last for one day.  The name of the plant comes from the Greek translation of words meaning “beauty” and “day.”


Diesel – an engine that uses pressure instead of spark for combustion (which powers the vehicle).  These engines are often used in big trucks and trains, and make a very loud noise when turned on.

Diffused – spread out, scattered.  Diffused light is not a harsh light, but it is somewhat glowy and easier on the eyes.

English Boxwood – a tough evergreen shrub that can live for many, many years, with very small, dark green leaves.  They are used often in hedges and gardens, and even to create life size mazes.

English Boxwood

Epiphany – a sudden understanding of something

Etiquette – proper social behavior, a code of conduct that is very polite.

Exaggerated – overdone, stretching the truth

Exhilaration – extreme happiness or excitement

Fledgling – a beginner, someone just learning to do something

Forte – in music, a part of a song that is played loudly

Frenzy – a situation that seems to be out of control

Gallantly – bravely

Great Flood/Flood of the Century – referring to the flooding of Nashville, Tennessee, in early May of 2010.  This Flood caused many millions of dollars in damage, forced families from their homes and filled the downtown area with water from the Cumberland River.  It was known as a “hundred year flood,” which is extremely serious flooding expected to only happen every hundred years or so.

Hackberry – a common, strong tree found all over the world.  It can stand strong winds and helps keep soil in place.  It is deciduous (loses its leaves in the winter) and it sprouts berries that wild animals love to eat.

Ivory Soap – a bar of soap created by Procter & Gamble Company (P&G), known for being mild and pure and floating in water.  It is one of P&G’s oldest and most trusted products.

Jane Magnolia tree – A smaller tree grown in the southern United States, with many stems and purple tulip-shaped blooms that smell sweet and appear in Spring.

Jane Magnolia

Labrador Retrievers – the most popular breed of dog in America, very playful and easy to train.  They are good with children and families, and they are often used as guide dogs and therapy dogs.

Lamb’s Ears – a very low-growing plant with fuzzy, soft pale leaves of grayish-green and pinkish-purple flowers that bloom in Spring and Summer.

Lass – young girl

Laurel – an evergreen shrub that is often used as a hedge or fence.  It blooms very detailed white blooms that have a sweet scent, and bees love to sip the nectar.


Lewis & Clark – refers to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark who were brave, American explorers in the early 1800s.  They faced all kinds of challenges as they journeyed across the northwest territories of the United States.  Their travels, requested by then-President Thomas Jefferson, are known as the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

Litter – a group of puppies born at the same time to the same mommy dog.

Lollygagging – moving slowly, probably while daydreaming

Maple tree – a common North American tree that is deciduous (loses its leaves in the winter).  Its green leaves turn extremely bright colors of yellow, orange and red before they fall in the colder seasons.  The seeds fall from the tree and spin on the way to the ground like mini helicopters.  The sap of this tree can be made into sugar, and the wood can be used for furniture.

Maple leaves

Mascot – a type of symbol, usually for a school.  They are often at sporting events and are supposed to bring good luck.  For example, the mascot of the school on which this story is based is the Mustang.  The children often yell, “Go Mustangs!” when the football, baseball, basketball and softball teams play.

Meander – to go forward with a winding course, like a river

Melodies – pleasing musical tunes

Melodious – easy on the ears, sweet-sounding

Mesmerized – fascinated or hypnotized

Mimosa – a decorative tree with origins in China.  It has showy pink flowers that bloom like small fans, and the leaves are very tiny green leaflets that look similar to ferns or feathers.

Monarch – the best-known and largest North American butterfly, known for bright orange and black wing designs with white polka dots.  Many thousands of Monarchs travel a long distance south in the winter.


Mozart – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), one of the most influential composers of the Classical era of music.  He was born in Austria, and was an excellent musician at a very young age.

Niagara Cypress tree – an evergreen tree often used along fence lines or as Christmas trees.  It grows in a pyramid shape.

Oak tree – a deciduous tree (loses its leaves in the winter), that comes in many different sizes and types of leaves.  There are many varieties, and it is known for being a very strong, shady tree when it has its leaves.

Ole´ – pronounced oh-LAY.  This is a Spanish word that is used a lot by the crowds who attend bullfights.  It means, “bravo!” or “hooray!”

Overture – in music, an opening part of a larger musical work, like an introduction

Paramount – most important

Parched – thirsty

Parsley – a leafy, fresh green herb used in cooking as a spice or decoration

Patchwork Quilt – a blanket made usually by hand, using smaller scraps of fabric sewn together as the first layer, often in a colorful design.  Some quilts tell a story with their patterns.  There is a middle layer called “batting,” which provides warmth, and a back layer to enclose the batting.  Thread is sewn throughout the blanket to hold the three layers together and complete the quilt.

Pawleys Island hammock – a handmade rope net swing made for relaxing outdoors.  Riverboat Captain Joshua Ward originally designed them in 1889 in South Carolina, looking for a comfortable way to rest.  Today’s design is the same, and they are perfect napping spots for those who own them.

Pecan tree – a tree found in the United States and Mexico, which can grow very tall and live for hundreds of years.  They produce nuts called pecans.  Pecans are a favorite of squirrels who gnaw thru the hard black and brown outer shell to get to the nutty meat inside.  The tree loses its many small leaves in the winter, and its pecans are tasty when eaten raw, included in recipes of many dishes and desserts, or even roasted or sprinkled with sugar and baked.

Percussion – in music, the musical instruments that strike or tap to make their sounds

Peripheral – from the side.  Peripheral vision is seeing from the sides while still looking forward.

Perpendicular – at a 90-degree angle from any point.  For instance, with the letter L: the lines that create the capital letter L are perpendicular to each other.

Peruse – to look at closely

Petit – small and dainty

Pixie – fairy

Poised – charming and calm

Posy – a pinkish color

Predicament – challenging situation

Protocol – rule of conduct, similar to etiquette

Quandary – complicated problem or issue

Queen Anne’s Lace – a wild flower common in open fields.  It can grow up to four feet tall, has fern-like leaves, and tiny white flowers that grow in flat, round clusters.

Refinement – having polite manners and proper etiquette

Reiterate – to emphasize or show the importance of something

Resonated – echoed

Reverie – daydream

Robin Redbreast – a very common bird with a brown back and bright orangey-red breast.  Their eggs are a beautiful light blue color.


Rosemary – an evergreen herb with a strong, woody aroma, used in cooking to flavor many dishes like fish and chicken or pasta.


Ruckus – a noisy commotion

Rumpus – a noisy commotion, like a ruckus

Shenanigans – funny acts, like capers or fun adventures

Southern Magnolia – an evergreen shade tree found in the southern United States that can grow up to 80 feet tall, has oblong shaped, waxy green leaves, bright red seeds, and blooms large white saucer shaped flowers that smell sweet.

Staccato – in music, very short notes that can be a little choppy, often played over and over, one after the other

Tea Olive – one of the most sweetly fragranced evergreen plants in the southern United States.  It grows tiny cream-colored flowers that smell wonderful in the afternoons.

Tea Olive

Teacakes – delicate cookies made from an age-old recipe, often served with afternoon tea, at parties and other special occasions.  The author’s grandmother made them often when the author was growing up, and passed her recipe on to her.

Tenacious – persistent, not giving up

Tree Squirrel – very common, known to be everywhere from forest areas, to backyards, to city parks, all over the world.  They are expert climbers and jumpers, and they are members of the rodent family.  They come in all sizes, from five inches to three feet, and love to gather nuts and eat berries, leaves, seeds and insects.


Triumphs – accomplishments or achievements

Uproarious – very noisy

Valiant – brave

Violet – very small, purple flowers that grow in grassy areas

Water Spaniel – a American dog breed that naturally loves the water, and is very good at hunting and retrieving birds.  They are very playful and usually friendly, and they have lots of energy.

Whippersnappers – young, energetic children

Wild Honeysuckle – a shrub or vine that grows in the wild, blooms white and yellow flowers with a sweet scent that smells like honey.  They sometimes also produce small red berries.

Zephyrs – light winds

5 thoughts on “The Vocabulary of Otis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s