The meanings of words play an integral part of Netflix’s adaptation of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Words that mean more than one thing cause misunderstandings that can lead to everything from inconveniences to disasters, usually for the unlucky Baudelaire children.
Words matter so much that characters in “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” as well narrator Lemony Snicket himself (Patrick Warburton), are constantly defining them — sometimes with useful definitions, and sometimes with hilarious ones.
Here’s every term, saying, idiom or word defined in “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” Season 1, along with the definitions that were given.
Calamitous: A word which here means “dreadful” and “melancholy.”
Rickety: A word which here means unsteady or unlikely to collapse at any moment.
Festive: A word that means fun.
Infant: A word that means “a person of the age at which one mostly speaks in unintelligible shrieks, and most people had trouble understanding what she was saying.”
Perished: A word meaning “killed” (as in by a fire).
Blanched: A word meaning “boiled.”
Hasty: A word meaning “quickly.”
Mitzvah: A word meaning “blessing.”
Courageous: A word that just means “brave.”
Applaud: A word that means “go like this” (with a demonstration of clapping, but with hook hands).
Flashback: A word meaning “taking place during the last episode, shortly after the Baudelaire fire, and during the Baudelaire children’s unfortunate stay with the Poe family.”
Executor (or executioner): A word meaning “person who controls people’s fortunes after a terrible fire has just happened.”
Closest living relative: A phrase meaning “whoever lives nearby.”
In loco parentis: A Latin phrase meaning “acting in the role of a parent.”
Post-haste: A word meaning “very, very fast.”
Standoffish: A word that refers to a person who, for various reasons, is not associating with others. It is a word that describes a person who, during a party, might stand in a corner instead of talking to another person. It would not describe somebody who provides one bed for three people to sleep in, forces them to do horrible chores, and strikes them across the face. There are many words for people like that but standoffish isn’t one of them.
“Literally” and “figuratively”: “Literally” means something is actually happening, whereas “figuratively” means it just feels like it’s happening. If you are literally jumping for joy, for instance, it means that you are leaping in the air because you are very happy. If you’re figuratively jumping for joy, it means you are so happy you could jump for joy, but you’re saving your energy for other matters.
Over and out: A phrase that is walkie-talkie slang for “goodbye.”
Curtains for your baby sister: A saying that means Sonny will be dropped out the window, but it’s also a sort of play on theatrical curtains.
Aberrant: A word meaning very, very wrong and causing much grief (as relates to the figurative direction the Baudelaires find themselves going in).
At large: A phrase meaning the authorities had not caught Count Olaf, and would not catch him for a very long time.
Ridicule: A word meaning “tease.”
Bambini: An Italian word for “children.”
Misnomer: A word that means “a very wrong name.”
Dramatic Irony: A term for when a person makes a remark and someone who hears it knows something that makes the remark have a different, usually unpleasant meaning. For example, if I were to say “I can’t wait to eat this almond cookie,” but there were people around who knew the cookie was poisoned, that would be dramatic irony. For that reason, when we hear Uncle Monty tell the children, “I promise you, no harm will come to you in the Reptile Room,” we should be on guard for the unpleasant arrival of dramatic irony.
Conundrum: A word that means “mystery.”
Esoterica: A word which here means “obscure objects or documents.”
Hackneyed: A word which here means “Used by so many writers it’s now a tiresome cliche.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch: A phrase that is used to link what is going on in one part of a story with another part, and has nothing to do with cows or creamy salad dressing. When Snicket says “meanwhile back at the ranch,” what he mean is, “meanwhile back in the reptile room, the adults were having an adult conversation.”
Labyrinth: A word meaning “a maze full of secrets and danger, and if you’re in Ancient Greece, a monster that is half bull and extremely unpleasant.”
Audition: A word that is medical business slang for “autopsy.”
Med Biz: A phrase that is medical business slang for “medical business.”
Doc: A word that is apparently medical business slang for “doctor.”
Corpse: A word which apparently is medical business slang for “dead body.”
Meanwhile back at the ranch: A phrase which here means “upstairs and about six minutes earlier, before the adults discovered the ghastly scene in the parlor.”
Retrieve: A word meaning “take away.”
Taxi: A word meaning “a car that takes you some place for a reasonable fee.”
Dowager: A fancy word for “widow.”
Real estate agent: A term for people who assist in the buying and selling of houses.
You can’t lock up the barn after the horses are gone: A saying that means sometimes even the best of plans will occur to you when it is too late, just as all of us are far, far too late to be of any help at all to the Baudelaires.
Brunch: A word for the combination of breakfast and lunch.
Fine print: A phrase which here means you might miss reading it until it’s too late.
Plethora: A word which here means too many to list (as in the various dangers of sailing across Lake Lachrymose in a hurricane).
“Schm”: One way to demonstrate you don’t care about something is to say the word and then repeat the word with the letters “schm” replacing the real first letters. If you didn’t care about truth and justice, for example, you might say “truth schmuth” or “justice schmustice.”
Unsupervised: A word meaning “without supervision.”
Out of the woods: An expression referring to the fact that woods are dangerous places to be. In “Hansel and Gretel,” two children enter the woods and are menaced by an elderly cannibal. In “Little Red Riding Hood,” a wolf enters the woods and is menaced by a rude little girl. And in “Walden,” a poet enters the woods and is menaced by revelations that we should abandon civilization and live by a pond. It is for that reason that “out of the woods” has come to mean a return to safety, away from menace and disturbing revelations.
Partners: A word which means “equals,” and can also mean “two people who own a lumber mill together, or a cupcakery.” With the advent of more progressive cultural mores, not to mention certain High Court rulings, it could also mean, “I do all the work. He irons my clothes.”
Optimist: A word which here means “person who thinks hopeful thoughts about even the bleakest situations.” For example, if an optimist was to have his arm bitten off by an alligator, he might say “Oh boy, half-price manicures for life.” Whereas the rest of us would say “Ah, my arm.”
Optometrist: A word meaning “health care professional who performs eye exams.”
Catch more flies with honey than vinegar: A fancy way of saying you’re more likely to get what you want by acting in a sweet way, than in a distasteful way, like vinegar.
Bedside manner: A phrase that means “when a doctor speaks in a calm and reassuring voice to make sure his patients trust him.”
Inordinate: A word which here means “immoderate,” “irregular,” or in this case, that Violet missed Klaus a lot.
Seeing in black and white: A way of saying a person looks at the world in a way that is oversimplified and often incorrect.
Fatal: A word that means “caused the death of one person,” (as in the case of the accident at the Lucky Smells Lumber Mill).
Pariah: A word meaning “outcast.”