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

Hey, little Timmy! Don’t be so lugubrious.

Yep, lugubrious means sad, dismal, or mournful. Some near-synonyms are doleful, morose, and saturnine.

If Timmy were mostly thoughtful, but in a somewhat sad way, he’d be pensive.

If he were pitiable, or expressing pity for someone else, he’d be rueful.

Let’s try a sample problem.

SAD : LUGUBRIOUS ::
A. APATHETIC : DISINTERESTED
B. PLEASED : EBULLIENT
C. DISTRESSED : SARDONIC
D. JOCULAR : CRUEL
E. INTREPID : CRAVEN

Choose your own answer, then click “more.”

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Pop Quiz: Find the Antonyms

Jen Dziura —  September 13, 2010 — Leave a comment

pop quizPop Quiz!

Which two words below are antonyms?

COMPLAISANT
CONSANGUINEOUS
PLACID
INTRACTABLE
INTREPID
COMPLACENT

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Three-Letter Words: Lax

Jen Dziura —  September 10, 2010 — 1 Comment

Text book word close-upSome 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.


Lax is an easy one. If you’ve got relax, you can guess what lax means (loose, slack, careless, negligent, vague).

Her morals may have been lax, but no one was prepared for the overlaxness of her parenting skills: not only did she keep quiet as her children picked their noses, she didn’t even intervene when they picked each other’s noses.

Try a sample Sentence Completion problem:

Accustomed to a manager so lax that he allowed everyone to come to work in cutoffs and leave whenever the weather was nice, the employees were __________ at the _________ of their authoritarian new boss’s regime.

A. ebullient … uptight
B. shocked … pedagogy
C. aghast … asperity
D. intrepid … harshness
E. enervated … strictness

Choose your own answer, then click “more for the solution.

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perditionIn a previous Vocab at the Movies post, we talked about atoning for one’s wrongs; today we talk about perdition: “a state of final spiritual ruin; loss of the soul; damnation.”

The film, starring Tom Hanks, is about organized crime during the Great Depression. It involves the attempted murder of a child witness to a crime — certainly an act likely to lead to perdition.

Perdition comes from the Latin word for lost, which also gives us the French word perdu, also meaning lost. A perdu can be a soldier sent on a particularly dangerous mission, and pain perdu is what the French call French toast: a way to save “lost bread.”

Some critics say Road to Perdition was one of the most overlooked movies of 2002. Perhaps this was because most people don’t know what perdition means?

Most of us in New York get our electricity from a company called ConEd, which is short for Consolidated Edison. However, companies with “consolidated” in their names are not hard to find: consolidated means “joined into a whole” and usually indicates that the company was once two or more smaller companies. Sure enough, Wikipedia tells us that, “In 1884, six gas companies combined into the Consolidated Gas Company” which eventually became ConEd.

A similar word for bringing things together is amalgamated. You may know an amalgam as a dental filling (so called because it is made with more than one metal), but the word occurs in the name of many labor unions: for instance, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, which was involved in the famous Homestead Strike in 1892. Also interesting: iron and steel can themselves be amalgamated (using the meaning of amalgamate “to mix with mercury”).

Do you have some stuff you want to join together?

You could also fuse, meld, aggregate, or agglomerate it!

If you want to stick a small thing onto a big thing, you could annex it!

If you want to stick some things together end-to-end, you could concatenate them! As in, If you want to make your own chain mail, you’ll have to concatenate each link onto the one before it.

Visual Dictionary: Lithe

Jen Dziura —  September 7, 2010 — 4 Comments

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


This woman is quite lithe.

You could also say she is limber or lissome.

There are more words for flexible that you wouldn’t typically use to describe an entire person. For instance, supple (commonly used to describe skin or leather) and plastic (the point of plastic surgery is that it bends and reshapes parts of the body).

The words pliant and malleable can physically describe something like clay, or can metaphorically describe someone who bends to the will of others, a pushover.

Try this Sentence Completion problem:

Although they were twins, they couldn’t have been more different: she was a ________ ballerina, and he was a ________ but gentle giant who often broke things unintentionally.

A. lithe … ratiocinating
B. lissome … sashaying
C. flexible … craven
D. supple … tyrannical
E. limber … lumbering

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johnny mnemonicThe 1995 critical flop Johnny Mnemonic rather hilariously tried to predict our “wired” future (from IMDB):

In the 21st century, information is the ultimate commodity. The most valuable of information is transported in mnemonic implants in the heads of professional mnemonic couriers like Johnny (Keanu Reeves) who offer both security and confidentiality for the right price … but the massive upload is too much for his brain and Johnny must find the secret codes to download the information – or die.

Mnemonic means pertaining to the memory. A mnemonic device is often something like SOHCATOA (for remembering the sine, cosine, and tangent in trigonometry).

Other GRE words relating to memory include reminisce and nostalgia.

Other words related to learning are didactic and heuristic.

While the Church was opposed to Galileo’s claim that the earth revolved around the sun, it did admit that the idea could be used as a heuristic to help guide ships — that is, the Church agreed that navigating as though the earth circled the sun would be useful, if not necessarily true.

Visual Dictionary: Docile

Jen Dziura —  September 3, 2010 — 1 Comment

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

Sheep are so docile.
Want someone who never argues with you? Try talking to a sheep! They are super acquiescent.

Choose your own answer to this Antonyms problem, then click “more.”

DOCILE:
A. refractory
B. garrulous
C. malleable
D. tractable
E. ruminatory

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Pop Quiz: Back to the Land

Jen Dziura —  September 2, 2010 — Leave a comment

pop quizPop Quiz!

Which words are related to farming, the woods, or the out-of-doors?

Make your list, then click “more.”

SYLVAN
CAVALIER
PASTORAL
AGOG
ARCADIAN
BUCOLIC
DEMOTIC
AGRARIAN
ARABLE
CALUMNIOUS

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Three-Letter Words: Wan

Jen Dziura —  September 1, 2010 — Leave a comment

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.

Wan means pale, sickly, fatigued, or weak.

The reality show host gave the contestant a thumbs-up as he lowered her into a tank full of centipedes. She could manage only a wan smile in reply.

She made it to the job interview despite having the flu, and fortunately had time to duck into the ladies’ room and attempt to conceal her wan complexion with makeup.

Supposedly, Juan had been able to slam-dunk in high school, but ten years of smoking and indolence had not improved his basketball skills. After handily defeating Juan at a pickup game, Balaji said, “That was wan, Juan.”