Manhattan Prep GRE Blog

Origin Stories: Glib

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origin story“Origin story” is an expression for a superhero’s backstory — for instance, Superman was born on Krypton just before it was destroyed. Many words also have fascinating origin stories. While English comes largely from Latin (and from Greek, and from Latin through French and Spanish, with some Germanic roots and a bit of Sanskrit, etc.), you’ll find that word usage can change quite bit over a couple thousand years.

Glib means “fluent and easy in way that suggests superficiality or insincerity.”

She was the worst teacher he had ever encountered, giving glib responses to every question. Can you help me with this algebra problem? he asked. Oh, just solve for x, she said, and walked away.

Some related words are flippant (disrespectfully casual or light in manner), impertinent (inappropriately bold), and saucy (disrespectful or irrepressible, especially in an entertaining way).

Glib comes from a Germanic root for slippery. A glib comments slips right out of your mouth — when you should have instead spent more time thinking and come up with something more meaningful.

Vocab at the Movies: The Fighter

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According to IMBD, The Fighter is “a look at the early years of boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward and his brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980s.” A story summary also on IMDB adds that the main character’s “Rocky-like rise was shepherded by half-brother Dicky.”

To shepherd is to tend, guard, or watch over carefully (as one would a flock of sheep!)

The Fighter is a pretty straightforward title, but we use the word “fighter” in a wide variety of situations — people battling illnesses, for example, are often called “fighters.” Did you know that there’s a word specifically for boxing?

A pugilist is “a person who fights with the fists; a boxer, usually a professional.” The word is related to pugnacious, “inclined to fight, combative.”

Some other words for pugnacious are belligerent and truculent.

Origin Stories: Gauche

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“Origin story” is an expression for a superhero’s backstory — for instance, Superman was born on Krypton just before it was destroyed. Many words also have fascinating origin stories. While English comes largely from Latin (and from Greek, and from Latin through French and Spanish, with some Germanic roots and a bit of Sanskrit, etc.), you’ll find that word usage can change quite bit over a couple thousand years.

In English, gauche means “tactless, lacking social grace, awkward, crude.”

That’s kind of weird, because, in French, gauche just means “left.” As in, “Please turn gauche here, Monsieur Taxi Driver.” (Okay, please don’t ever actually say that to a French taxi driver).

It is terribly gauche to put ketchup on your steak and then talk with your mouth full as you eat it. That’s the last time I ever bring you to a nice place.

Sadly, nearly all cultures are biased against left-handed people. Similarly, the word sinister comes from the Latin word for left. The French word for right gives us the English word adroit, which means skilled.

If you are offended by this slight against left-handed people, here are some words you could use in various situations instead of gauche:

Boorish (rude, ill-mannered, insensitive)
Meretricious (attractive in a vulgar way, specious)
Uncouth (having bad manners, awkward)

Vocab at the Movies: The Rite

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According to IMDB, The Rite is about an American priest, played by Anthony Hopkins, who goes to Italy to attend an exorcism school.

A rite is “a formal or ceremonial act or procedure prescribed or customary in religious or other solemn use,” such as rites of baptism, sacrificial rites, or the more metaphorical “rite of passage,” which we often use to describe momentous events in growing up (getting one’s ears pierced, going hunting with Dad for the first time — people have their own, idiosyncratic ideas about what constitutes such a rite).

So, one type of rite would be the kind used to exorcise a demon.

Of course, don’t get exorcise confused with exercise; the latter is to work out, the former is to expel an evil spirit from someone, although you can use the word metaphorically:

After ten years of therapy, she wondered if she would ever truly exorcise her demons.

Origin Stories: Goosebumps

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origin story“Origin story” is an expression for a superhero’s backstory — for instance, Superman was born on Krypton just before it was destroyed. Many words also have fascinating origin stories. While English comes largely from Latin (and from Greek, and from Latin through French and Spanish, with some Germanic roots and a bit of Sanskrit, etc.), you’ll find that word usage can change quite bit over a couple thousand years.

Goosebumps is one of those words that many native speakers have known since childhood, but many non-native speakers have simply never encountered. Goosebumps are simply bumps created by hairs standing up on the skin in response to cold, fear, etc.

That detective novel is hard to put down! I’ve got goosebumps just waiting to find out what happens next!

You’ve got goosebumps “ why don’t you borrow my jacket?

When a goose’s feathers are plucked, bumps are left behind on the skin. Goose flesh or goose pimples are expressions that mean the same thing (goosebumps, however, is more often used metaphorically and has appeared in official GRE materials). Why is the word goosebumps and not turkeybumps, since this same phenomenon happens with many different kinds of birds? We will never know.

Origin Stories: Aerie

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origin story“Origin story” is an expression for a superhero’s backstory — for instance, Superman was born on Krypton just before it was destroyed. Many words also have fascinating origin stories. While English comes largely from Latin (and from Greek, and from Latin through French and Spanish, with some Germanic roots and a bit of Sanskrit, etc.), you’ll find that word usage can change quite bit over a couple thousand years.

An aerie is a dwelling or fortress built on a high place, or the nest of a bird of prey, such as an eagle or hawk, built on a mountain or cliff.

The billionaire smoked a cigar out his window and watched the riots in the streets below, safe in the aerie of his penthouse apartment.

A related word is stronghold (a well fortified place, especially the central place of a controversial group, as in Police raided the smugglers’ stronghold.)

Interestingly, aerie may also be spelled aery, eyrie, or eyry. It shares an origin with airy, coming from a Latin word pertaining to an open field.

Vocab at the Movies: Gulliver’s Travels

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Gulliver’s Travels is a new film featuring Jack Black — and of course, is also a satirical novel (published 1726) by Jonathan Swift.

Three truly excellent vocabulary words proceed from Gulliver’s Travels (the book, of course):

In the story, Gulliver, a rather hapless “captain of several ships” ends up in the land of Lilliput, where people are only six inches tall and he is a giant. From this comes the word lilliputian (meaning small).

Later, Gulliver travels to Brobdingnag, where people are roughly 72 feet tall and Gulliver is thought to be adorable, carried around in a box, and used to amuse the Queen. Brobdingnagian, unsurprisingly, means extremely large.

Gulliver also travels to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan (weird), as well as to the land of the Houyhnhnms, where he encounters horrifying, deformed creatures, as well as talking horses. It turns out the horses (the Houyhnhnms) are the rulers, and have wisely constructed an ideal society; the deformed creatures are humans in their natural, debased state — the yahoos.

Yahoo today means “crude, uncultivated person” — e.g., boor, lout, yokel, or philistine.

In the end, Gulliver is forced to return home against his will but cannot bear to live among the “yahoos.” He becomes a recluse and spends his time mostly talking to his horses.

Origin Stories: Apocryphal

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origin stories“Origin story” is an expression for a superhero’s backstory — for instance, Superman was born on Krypton just before it was destroyed. Many words also have fascinating origin stories. While English comes largely from Latin (and from Greek, and from Latin through French and Spanish, with some Germanic roots and a bit of Sanskrit, etc.), you’ll find that word usage can change quite bit over a couple thousand years.

Apocryphal means “of questionable authenticity; false.”

I’m sorry, but this putative letter from George Washington that you found at a garage sale is clearly apocryphal -“ it is riddled with anachronisms (for instance, Washington was long dead by the time silent films were invented), and also, Washington most certainly didn’t refer to Martha Washington as hey baby.

Related Words: Ersatz (artificial, synthetic, serving as a substitute), Faux (fake, imitation, as in faux fur), and Specious (pleasing to the eye but deceptive).

The word Apocrypha often refers to books that have been rejected for inclusion in (various versions of) the Bible, either due to dubious authenticity or because the Church considered them useful, but not divinely inspired. Obviously, different authorities disagree about what exactly is included in the Apocrypha.

The Latin “apocryphus” meant “secret, not approved for public reading,” from the Greek “apokryphos” (hidden, obscure), from the roots “apo” (away) and “kryptein” (to hide, also appearing in “crypt”). Hmmn, is that like kryptonite? Actually, yes — before Krypton was a fictional planet, it was a chemical element. The name comes from the same root, so named because it is a rare gas.

Origin Stories: Anoint

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origin stories“Origin story” is an expression for a superhero’s backstory — for instance, Superman was born on Krypton just before it was destroyed. Many words also have fascinating origin stories. While English comes largely from Latin (and from Greek, and from Latin through French and Spanish, with some Germanic roots and a bit of Sanskrit, etc.), you’ll find that word usage can change quite bit over a couple thousand years.

Anoint means “rub or sprinkle oil on; make sacred, such as by a ceremony that includes applying oil to someone.”

After Principal Smitters raised test scores over 60% at her school, it was only a matter of time before she was anointed superintendant by a fawning school board.

Anoint shares a root with ointment, an oily substance added to the skin. Anointing occurs repeatedly in the Bible; in that time, people rubbed oil on themselves medicinally and for refreshment, and as a means of showing hospitality to guests.

Visual Dictionary: Equivocate

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

Jennifer walking on equator copy

To equivocate is to use unclear language to deceive or avoid committing to a position. Colloquially, we sometimes say that someone is “flip-flopping.”

Not wanting to lose supporters, the politician equivocated on the issue, tossing out buzzwords related to each side while also claiming more study was needed.

Related Words:

  • Ambivalent (uncertain; unable to decide, or wanting to do two contradictory things at once)
  • Vacillate and Waffle (waver, be indecisive)
  • Dither (act irresolutely)
  • Hedge (avoid commitment by leaving provisions for withdrawal or changing one’s mind; protect a bet by also betting on the other side)
  • Palter (talk insincerely; bargain or haggle)
  • Tergiversate (repeatedly change one’s opinions, equivocate)

Equivocate contains the roots “equi” and “voc” “ think of it as being equally vocal for two or more positions.

Photo of blog author balancing on the equator at Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador. Credit: Eric Walton.