Archives For Vocab at the Movies

vertigoToday’s film selection is a classic: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Despite being a popular name for nightclubs, vertigo is a horrible medical condition characterized by a feeling of spinning (a feeling so violent it can often lead to vomiting and incapacitation). Thus: a terrible name for a nightclub, but a pretty good name for a horror movie.

The more versatile word vertiginous can be used to refer to anything liable to cause vertigo (either literally or metaphorically). For instance:

The fiftieth-floor apartment was a great deal, but she couldn’t take the vertiginous heights.

Successful traders are those who can control their emotions even in a vertiginous financial environment.

On a somewhat related note, the word vortical (not a typo!) means “relating to a vortex.”

Indemnity is “protection or security against damage or loss.” According to the Wikipedia entry for the 1944 film Double Indemnity:

double indemnityThe story was based on a 1927 crime perpetrated by a married Queens woman and her lover. Ruth Snyder persuaded her boyfriend, Judd Gray, to kill her husband Albert after having her spouse take out a big insurance policy”with a double-indemnity clause. The murderers were quickly identified and arrested.

The term double indemnity refers to a clause in certain life insurance policies where the insuring company agrees to pay twice the standard amount in cases of accidental death.

Some other GRE words related to money include:

Let’s try some example sentences:

Benicio’s recent securities acquisition more than doubled his portfolio; his boss liked to say that, while his portfolio accrued value, Benicio himself was also accruing acclaim.

According to the IRS, “a taxpayer may elect to amortize start-up expenditures (as defined in section 195(c)(1)). A taxpayer who elects to amortize start-up expenditures must, at the time of the election, select an amortization period of not less than 60 months.”

If the bank has a lien against your house, your mortgage agreement may require you to indemnify the property against damage.

While virtually all accounting is now done on computers, accountants can still go to jail for falsifying ledgers, especially to cover up their own or executives’ sybaritic lifestyles, as funded by stockholders: no one adds your company’s stock to his portfolio in order to pay for your massage-and-bourbon habit.

AtonementThe 2007 film Atonement, starring Keira Knightley, is the doleful story of a woman attempting to right a wrong she committed as a thirteen year old in 1935 — a wrong that ruins the lives of her older sister and her lover.

Atonement means “satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.”

A person who atones for a wrong is contrite.

You could also say that a person who does penance or makes recompense for his wrongs is redeemed, or that he is absolved of his peccancy.

A person who does penance could also be said to be penitent (antonym: impenitent). The word penitent comes from the Latin word for punishment, which also gives us penal and penitentiary. Also relatedly, if you did something in a non-punishing way, you could describe it with a very interesting adverb:

While it’s true she was still angry at him, she wanted to emphasize that she canceled his plane ticket only for financial reasons — that is, she did it wholly unpenally.

avatarWhen the film Avatar came out, many online dictionaries reported that avatar was one of the most frequently looked up words for the month.

In Hinduism, an avatar is an incarnation of a god. On the internet, an avatar is a small image a user chooses to represent him or herself. In regular speech, however, an avatar is “an embodiment or personification, as of a principle, attitude, or view of life.” As in, “Having traveled the world with a backpack, I consider Dora the Explorer the avatar of my peripatetic lifestyle.”

Other words you can use in a similar way include apotheosis, archetype, epitome, exemplar, and quintessence.

For instance:

The coq au vin is the epitome of French cuisine.

Torture is the quintessence of evil.

Jason Statham is an exemplar of action heroes.

Her role in the play wasn’t well-developed; the character was simply an earth-mother archetype who served as a foil to the crafty — and more modernized — leading role.

Avatar is one of those words everyone thinks he knows — until you ask him for a definition. You are now one of the few people who knows how to use the word when you’re not on Pandora!