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Vaughan's Vocabulary

October 7, 2012


My theatre students and I recently analyzed Death of a Salesman which earned Arthur Miller (1915-2005) a Pulitzer Prize in 1949. I pointed out that those who see or read the play could easily miss some foreshadowing in Act II when Willy Loman tells his boss, Howard Wagner, about a highly-respected salesman named Dave Singleman, who remained a successful salesman until the day he died at age 84. Loman tells Wagner that Singleman “died the death of salesman,” meaning that he died with dignity and respect. To be like Singleman is what Willy was aiming for in life. I feel that Miller had to include Willy giving us this information as a reference point to show the audience the contrast between Singleman and him.

Loman comments, “Hundreds of sellers and buyers were at his funeral. Things were sad on . . . [many] trains for months after . . . [Singleman’s death].” Only a few attended Willy Loman’s funeral.

At East Mississippi College, we are probably going to hold an acting recital in which my drama students present monologues and dialogues. I am thinking about kicking it off with my portrayal of Willy as he begins screaming at Wagner, his boss.

1. crestfallen (crest-FALL-uhn)
A. fickle
B. given to lechery
C. vicarious
D. feeling shame or humiliation
The word crestfallen is in a Linda Loman line. Who does she say is crestfallen and what reason does she give for his crestfallenness? D is the right answer.

2. dispirited (DIS-pir-eh-tid)
A. apathetic  
B. convivial
C. when something is deprived of morale or enthusiasm
D. All of the above
Death of a Salesman is a dispirited drama whose dramatic question is what is going to happen to Willy and will he and his son reconcile? C is the answer.

3. seminal (SIM-uh-nul)
A. controversial
B. highly original and influencing the development of future events
C. stellar
D. None of the above
Death of a Salesman is a seminal work in which Miller explores individual and social morality. B is the answer.

4. Which one was Miller married to?
A. Lana Turner
B. Marilyn Monroe
C. Mary Tyler Moore
D. Laura Nyro
Last week’s mystery word is panoply.

This week’s mystery word to solve has the same first three letters of the last name of a character in Death of a Salesman. A synonym for the mystery word is accidental. It has four syllables; speaking of four, the first syllable has the sound of “four.”

Don R. Vaughan, Ph.D. in Mass Communication, is a professor at East Miss. Community College. Contact him at

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