Advocabulary: Sundry

Jen Dziura —  November 12, 2010 — Leave a comment

What can you buy at a sundry shop?


Oh, all kinds of stuff. Sundry means “various, diverse, miscellaneous” and often occurs in the (rather redundant) expression “various and sundry.” gives another expression, “all and sundry,” which means “everyone, both collectively and individually.” A sundry shop would be a good place to get a Snapple, a newspaper, and a tin of shoeshine; the idea of sundries includes the idea that the items are of nominal value.

A related word is notions. A notion is usually a vague idea (“I had a notion about that, but I hadn’t really thought it through”), but can also refer to “small articles, as buttons, thread, ribbon, and other personal items, esp. such items displayed together for sale, as in a department store.”

This display was seen in a window of the Financial District location of Daffy’s, a discount clothing retailer:


Pulchritude is an ugly-sounding word simply meaning “physical beauty.” Its provenance is the Latin pulchritÅ«dō, also meaning beauty. I was unable to find any other words in English using this root (that’s why it sounds so weird!), although I did discover, in an online gardening forum, that there is an Aeschynanthus pulcher that is also known as a “lipstick plant,” which makes a certain sort of sense.

Since we’re talking about beauty, now seems as fine a place as any to mention that, in India, the word “homely” means “domestic” (as in, a quality a traditionally-minded man would want in a traditionally-minded wife), but in U.S. English, homely means “plain, unattractive,” and is a somewhat less popular attribute in a romantic partner.

Just Google the phrase “homely wife,” and you’ll get lots of Indian matrimonial ads containing phrases that, in U.S. English, are oxymorons: “Professional male seeks beautiful and homely wife.”

Three-Letter Words: Gin

Jen Dziura —  November 8, 2010 — 3 Comments

definitionSome of the most perplexing words on the GRE are diminutive. Who doesn’t see PAN : REVIEW and metaphorically scratch his or her head, or wonder what, exactly, a nib or a gin is on its own? Welcome to Three-Letter Words. A few of them might make you want to deploy some four-letter words.

Today’s word is gin? It is!

Gin is not only a liquor made from grain mash and juniper berries, but also a machine for separating the fibers of cotton from the seeds (like the “cotton gin” from history class), a trap or snare for hunting, or a machine for hoisting.

Here is a cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum:

cotton gin

Try the following Analogies question — choose your own answer before clicking “more.”

A. vise : shrinking
B. awl : compiling
C. harrow : planting
D. winch : turning
E. combine : harvesting

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impetus ≠ impetuous

Impetus is a stimulus, impulse, or force that moves something else to action.

Impetuous means impulsive, rash, characterized by sudden action.

Seeing the Vin Diesel classic “XXX” was the impetus behind my decision to skydive.

My decision to jump out of an airplane after seeing an actor do so in a movie was a bit impetuous.

Visual Dictionary: Loupe

Jen Dziura —  November 3, 2010 — 3 Comments

Welcome to Visual Dictionary, a series of posts about words that are better expressed in pictures.

This is a loupe. Most of us would call it a “magnifying glass.”

Let’s try a sample problem.


Choose your own answer, then click “more.”

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quizPop Quiz!

Because the GRE is a computer-adaptive test, chances are you’re going to see words you don’t know. When that happens, one useful strategy is to try to ferret out whether the unknown words have positive or negative connotations. You can do this using roots, your knowledge of similar words in English or Romance languages, or just your “gut” feeling.

Decide whether each word is positive, negative, or neutral, then click “more.”


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Welcome to Vocab in the Classics. This is the fifth and final installment of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Click on any of the linked words for a definition; there will be a quiz at the end!

poeThe officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: –it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

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Welcome to Vocab in the Classics. This is Part I of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Click on any of the linked words for a definition; there will be a quiz at the end!

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye — not even his –could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all –ha! ha!

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Welcome to Vocab in the Classics. This is Part III of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Click on any of the linked words for a definition; there will be a quiz at the end!

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little –a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it –you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily –until, at length a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open –wide, wide open –and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness –all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses? –now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

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Welcome to Vocab in the Classics. This is Part II of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Click on any of the linked words for a definition; we’ll discuss at the end!

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out –“Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

(“Death watches” are beetles that make creepy tapping sounds in the wall. You don’t need to know that for the GRE).

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