Vygotsky's work on the acquisition of foreign language words has been criticized for lacking a formal view of language as a system and for taking little interest in questions such as the route and rate of language acquisition. We argue that word meanings really do not constitute a formal system, either in the way they develop, or in the way they are deployed. They may, of course, be taught that way, but we present evidence from a partial replication of Slimani (1992) that they are not, in fact, acquired that way. Instead, foreign language word meanings appear to be palimpsests of different layers of meaning: iconic, indexical, and, ultimately, symbolic and signifying. It seems likely that because of the role of volition in uptake, no fixed route or rate in vocabulary acquisition will ever be found. Sociocultural theory, however, offers a historical understanding of the roots and ranges of foreign language word meanings that is, we argue, more valuable in the end.