Manhattan Prep GRE Blog

Vocab in the Classics: Attenuate


hemingwayWhile Ernest Hemingway was not a fan of bombastic language, this quote from For Whom the Bell Tolls gives an excellent description of what it means for something — in this case, anger — to be attenuated.

“His rage began to thin as he exaggerated more and more and spread his scorn and contempt so widely and unjustly that he could no longer believe in it himself.”

The word attenuate often confuses people a bit — it means to make slender, weaken, or rarefy. It often means a combination of those things:

Some critics of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting suggest that parents of so many children must necessarily attenuate their attention, depriving each child of needed care. Others point out that the children seem happy, perhaps more so than many in more conventional families.

So, to attenuate affection is to weaken it by spreading it too thin. You could attenuate a piece of bubble gum by pulling on it until it became thin and weak.

If you attenuate your GRE studies over too long a period of time, you’ll probably lose focus and start forgetting things. Full speed ahead!

Vocabulary Shopping: Ingenue, Precedent, Lilliputian


Modcloth is an online women’s clothing store, and their product names often include puns — for instance, “By Land or By Seersucker,” or “Un-twill We Meet Again.”

Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to get the joke without a formidable lexicon:

I Ingenue It!

An ingenue is a “naive, innocent girl or young woman,” or the role of such a woman in a play or movie, or an actress who plays such roles. So while it might sound bad to be “naive,” the word “ingenue” is often used positively to refer to the new “it girl” in the movies.

Ingenue is related to two other words that are much more likely to appear on the GRE — ingenuous and its antonym, disingenuous.

Ingenuous means “lacking in cunning, guile, or worldliness; artless,” or “openly straightforward or frank; candid.” (You can just memorize that inGENUous means GENUine — that’s a pretty good trick, right?) That is, ingenuousness is good when you want someone to be honest with you, but it’s a terrible quality for your lawyer to have — you need him or her to be crafty and cunning.

Disingenuous means “not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating” — in other words, not genuine.

Set a President Dress

This play on words references the expression “set a precedent.”

Precedent shares a root with precede, “to come before.”

A precedent is “an act or instance that may be used as an example in dealing with subsequent similar instances.” For instance:

Eleanor Roosevelt set a precedent for First Ladies’ publicly leading substantial projects rather than merely hosting dinner parties and quietly supporting uncontroversial charities.

Lily-putian Loveliness Dress

Ha! This, of course, is a play on lilliputian, meaning “very small.”

Read more about lilliputian in this post: Vocab at the Movies: Gulliver’s Travels.

PopVocab: Let’s Learn Vocab from the Dalai Lama’s Twitter Feed!


You can follow the Dalai Lama on Twitter here, although we doubt he writes the posts himself. Let’s see some of his pithy remarks.

Altruism is “unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.”

Mundane means “of the world, secular” or “ordinary, concerned with commonplaces.” A synonym is quotidian.

Equanimity means “the quality of being calm and even-tempered; composure.” It comes from the Latin “aequus” for “even” and “animus” for “mind.”

Did you know that animus (the same root in animation) is actually a word in its own right? Animus means “an attitude that informs one’s actions,” or “a feeling of animosity; ill will,” as in, “He couldn’t get over his animus enough to work for his old childhood nemesis.”

Forbearance means “Tolerance and restraint in the face of provocation; patience.” And if you’ve gotten in trouble with your student loans, you know it also means “The act of a creditor who refrains from enforcing a debt when it falls due.”

Impartial means “fair, unbiased, not prejudiced.”

This Tweet didn’t use any GRE-style vocabulary words, but it did remind me of one: syncretism, the “reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.”

Feeling enlightened yet?

PopVocab: Ivanka the Scion (and Her Mini-Mogul)


A scion is a descendant or heir, generally of a rich person. And while there’s nothing in the dictionary definition about being male, culturally speaking, the word scion is almost always used to describe the son of a powerful man.

I have used scion in class as an example of denotation vs. connotation (the dictionary definition of a word versus the “feeling” or cultural baggage of the word), and was thinking: I’ve never heard anyone describe a woman as a scion, but there’s no reason you couldn’t. For instance, Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump.

While Paris Hilton is an “heiress” (no one thinks she’s going to end up running the Hilton hotel brand someday), Ivanka is a mogul in her own right.

A mogul is “an important or powerful person” or “a rich or powerful person.” The word derives from Moghul or Mughal, a member of the Muslim dynasty founded by Baber (or a soldier supporting that dynasty) that ruled India until 1857.

Another word that comes to us from Hindi is nabob, “a person of wealth and prominence.” This originally was a European who made his fortune in India or elsewhere in the East. (Indian restaurants called Nawab or other variant spellings are referencing this colonial legacy.)

A variety of celebrity-type articles have referred to Ivanka’s newborn baby as a “mini-mogul.” Interestingly, when I Googled to find an example, all the articles that used the phrase “mini-mogul” were from before Ivanka actually gave birth. No one has yet used the phrase to refer to the baby after it was born. Maybe because it’s a girl? Interesting.

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Hoosegow


Final post from Damn You, Auto Correct!:

The person who sent this in remarks that she meant “Hilarious.”

From the comments:

Hoosegow isn’t a new word. It’s a slang term for jail.

The really hoosegow thing here is that the AutoCorrect is apparently being trained by 19th-century cowboys.

You’d be surprised. Everytime I try to type in my friend Greg’s name it wants to auto-complete to Gregarious.

My last name is Hasegawawhich autocorrects to Hoosegow.

Hoosegow does indeed mean “jail,” and it comes from the Mexican Spanish jusgado for “prison,” which ultimately comes from the Latin judicāre, from judex, “a judge.”

I may be advertising the fact that I am a decade older than my students, but I already knew hoosegow from the Red Hot Chili Peppers “Give It Away” (on Youtube here):

I’m a low brow but I rock a little know how
No time for the piggies or the hoosegow
Get smart get down with the pow wow
Never been a better time than right now.

Supposedly, the working title of the Chili Peppers’ new album is “Dr Johnny Skinz’s Disproportionately Rambunctious Polar Express Machine-head.” Take that, GRE!

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Buttress and Bolster


This post from Damn You, Auto Correct! inappropriately inserts the word buttressed:

As a noun, a buttress is a structure, usually brick or stone, built against a wall for support or reinforcement; something resembling a buttress, such as the flared base of certain tree trunks, a horny growth on the heel of a horse’s hoof, or a projection from a mountainside; or just anything that serves to support, prop, or reinforce.

As a verb, to buttress means “to support or reinforce with a buttress; to sustain, prop, or bolster.”

The related word bolster means, literally, a long narrow pillow or cushion, but you can also use the word as a verb to mean “to support or prop up with or as if with a long narrow pillow or cushion; to buoy up or hearten.”

So, let’s get this straight — a buttress is a support for a building and a bolster is more of a support for your back when you sit down. But you can use both words to mean “to support.” An army can buttress its defenses, and someone can bolster your spirits with a care package.

Here is a previous post on the Vocabulary Blog about buttress.

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Objects of Antiquity Edition!


In this post on Damn You, Auto Correct!, someone is unintentionally referring to tiles used in mosaics:

According to Wikipedia, a tessera (plural: tesserae) is “an individual tile in a mosaic, usually formed in the shape of a cube.”

Tesserae is also the term for dice used in ancient Rome (makes sense — they’re cubes!) or for the layers of calcification on sharks’ otherwise cartilaginous jaws and backbones (um, interesting).

And now, this post:

A garderobe is a chamber for storing clothes, a wardrobe; or the clothes stored in such a chamber; or simply any private chamber.

The word is Middle English from Old French and really does come from the roots for “guarding” your “robes.” (So does the word “wardrobe,” actually.)

PopVocab: Daniel Craig and “Fawnography”


From the Daily Mail:


This article about the very important wedding of Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz — and the partners they left behind, including esrtwhile inamorata Satsuki Mitchell — contained some interesting vocabulary words.

Razzmatazz is “a flashy action or display intended to bewilder, confuse, or deceive; Ambiguous or evasive language; double talk; Ebullient energy; vim.”

(Read an entire post about “vim” here!)

Myriad means “constituting a very large, indefinite number; innumerable.” You can use it as an adjective or a noun, as in, “I have learned myriad GRE words!” or “I need to learn a myriad of these freaking GRE words!”

(For more words for “a lot,” see the post A Plethora of Words for a Plethora).

Minutiae is the plural of minutia, “a small or trivial detail.”

Other words for a small amount include iota and modicum.

Finally, fawnography isn’t exactly a word in the sense that it isn’t in dictionaries, but a person with a robust vocabulary should certainly understand that fawning is exhibiting affection or attempting to please (especially in a dog-like way), or seeking favor or attention by flattery and obsequious behavior. So, a fawnography is like a “sucking-up” biography.

Manhattan Prep’s blog is written by one of our real-live GRE instructors. She teaches in New York. To learn about Manhattan Prep’s classes, go here. To suggest a word or topic for the blog, email

PopVocab: Keith Olbermann is Stentorian


From People magazine:

Keith Olberman’s “stentorian sarcasm can grow smug” (ooh, alliteration!), but he’s a “true political brawler.”

Stentorian means “very loud or powerful in sound,” but the word’s origin is much more interesting than that. In Greek mythology, Stentor was a herald for the Greek side in the Trojan War. Homer said his “voice was as powerful as fifty voices of other men”!

A brawler is simply a person who gets into brawls. A brawl is “a noisy quarrel, squabble, or fight; or a bubbling or roaring noise; a clamor.”

Similar to a brawl is a fracas, fray, mêlée, scuffle, altercation, or — if you are feeling very old-fashioned — fisticuffs or donnybrook.

Manhattan Prep’s blog is written by one of our real-live GRE instructors. She teaches in New York. To learn about Manhattan Prep’s classes, go here. To suggest a word or topic for the blog, email

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Topography and Palingenesis


In post from Damn You, Auto Correct!, a romantic moment is ruined by obscure math references:

The best definition I could find for topology is, “The mathematical study of the geometric properties that are not normally affected by changes in the size or shape of geometric figures. In topology, a donut and a coffee cup with a handle are equivalent shapes, because each has a single hole.”

If you’ve ever heard this word before, it might be in the context of a topographical map, which shows surface features such as mountain ranges, glaciers, and valleys.

This post introduced a similarly obscure word from theology:

Palingenesis has a couple of definitions:

Theology: The doctrine of transmigration of souls; spiritual rebirth through metempsychosis of Christian baptism

Biology: The repetition by a single organism of various stages in the evolution of its species during embryonic development.

This all makes sense if you know that palin is a Greek root meaning “again,” and genesis, of course, means birth or creation.

The root palin (not sure if there’s a connection to the former governor of Alaska) also occurs in palindrome, a word that can be read the same way forwards or backwards (Mom! Dad! Wow!) and palimpsest, parchment from which earlier writing has been removed to clear it for new writing.

Manhattan Prep’s blog is written by one of our real-live GRE instructors. She teaches in New York. To learn about Manhattan Prep’s classes, go here. To suggest a word or topic for the blog, email