Manhattan Prep GRE Blog

Choosy Moms Choose Vocabulary: Deleterious

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I thought this was pretty excellent. Notice how my mom wasn’t sure about how to use the word, so she “looked up examples of this word’s use in a sentence”? What an excellent strategy!

mom-deleterious

PopVocab: Plaudits, Gilded, Sylph

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This recent article from the UK’s Daily Mail contained several GRE-appropriate vocabulary words.

Plaudits (always plural) means an enthusiastic expression of approval. The word shares a root with applaud, laud, and laudation, and is used similarly to the (also plural) kudos.

Gilded means “covered or highlighted with gold or something of a golden color,” or “having a pleasing or showy appearance that conceals something of little worth.”

You probably remember the “Gilded Age” from U.S. History, a time in which the upper class lived opulent lifestyles and gave lavishly to philanthropic causes, but also a time in which a class divide was growing and labor unrest was brewing. From Wikipedia:

The term “Gilded Age” was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The name refers to the process of gilding an object with a superficial layer of gold and is meant to make fun of ostentatious display while playing on the term “golden age.”

A common expression is “to gild the lily”, which means “to add unnecessary ornamentation, a special feature, etc., in an attempt to improve something that is already complete, satisfactory, or ideal.” After all, if you’ve already got a beautiful flower, why would you try to gold-plate it?

Today I graduated with my masters and also got engaged! It’s the best day of my life! Baking me a celebratory cake would just be gilding the lily.

Don’t confuse gild with guild, a medieval trade organization or any organization of people with related interests, goals, etc.

A Sylph is a slender, graceful woman or girl. No surprise there, right? Oh, here’s definition #2: “(in folklore) one of a race of supernatural beings supposed to inhabit the air.”

They’re so thin they EAT AIR! Okay, not exactly. From Dictionary.com, credited to Random House:

Sylph, salamander, undine ( nymph ), gnome were imaginary beings inhabiting the four elements once believed to make up the physical world. All except the gnomes were female. Sylphs dwelt in the air and were light, dainty, and airy beings. Salamanders dwelt in fire: a salamander that lives in the midst of flames (Addison). Undines were water spirits: By marrying a man, an undine could acquire a mortal soul. (They were also called nymphs, though nymphs were ordinarily minor divinities of nature who dwelt in woods, hills, and meadows as well as in waters.) Gnomes were little old men or dwarfs, dwelling in the earth: ugly enough to be king of the gnomes.

That’s pretty incredible. I think I’ve seen a few gnome/sylph romances among the rich and famous.

Origin Stories: Modish

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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.

Modish means stylish or contemporary.

While some sculptors sought to make their work universal and timeless, Dania sculpted modish creations that captured the pop cultural zeitgeist “ for instance, a sculpture of Rihanna with an umbrella, or a three-foot high representation of the latest Alexander McQueen heels.

The expression “in vogue” means modish.

In the U.S., a la mode generally means with ice cream (pie a la mode), but it really means in fashion (in French and also in English). As it turns out, putting ice cream on things was once a big fad.

Visual Dictionary: Mired

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

Mired means “stuck, entangled (in something, like a swamp or muddy area), soiled.”

Mired in her predecessor’s mess and mistakes, the new CEO found it difficult to take the company in a new direction.

Relatedly, morass and quagmire are also words (often used metaphorically) for soft, swampy ground that a person can sink into. The Vietnam War was famously called a quagmire. Also, morass makes an appearance in the excellent book Butt Rot and Bottom Gas: A Glossary of Tragically Misunderstood Words.

The expression muck and mire means, literally, animal waste and mud.”

The federal prosecutor spent weeks wading through the muck and mire of the scandal “ every uncovered document showed that the corruption was deeper and worse than previously thought.

Finally, to muck up is to mess up or get dirty, and to muck about or around is to waste time.

No offense intended to the adorable piglets.

Origin Stories: Laconic

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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.

Laconic means “using few words, concise.”

The boss was famously laconic; after allowing his employees to present their new plan for an entire hour, he finally responded, Confirmed.

Some related words: reticent and taciturn (not talking much) are often used to describe shy people and do not have the sense of getting the point across efficiently than laconic does. Pithy, however, takes this idea even further “ it means getting the point across in just a few, cleverly-chosen words.

Laconic comes from the Greek place name Laconia, the region in which Sparta (which of course gives us spartan) was located. A famous story has an invading general threatening, If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta to the ground. The Spartans laconically replied, If.

Three-Letter Words: Hew

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hewSome 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.

To hew is to “strike forcibly with an ax, sword, or other cutting instrument; chop; hack” or to make or shape something, such as a statue, with a cutting tool.

The pioneer had to hew his own way through the brush in order to proceed westward.

She preferred rustic furniture; her dining room chairs were little more than stumps roughly hewn into stools.

The past tense of hew is hewn, and the expression roughly hewn (or rough-hewn, or rough hewed) is often used metaphorically, to describe something that seems unfinished or sort of looks as though it was “carved” with a heavy axe rather than more delicate tools.

For instance, a manly-man movie star — someone like Gerard Butler or Russell Crowe — is a bit more roughly hewn than someone like Leonardo DiCaprio or Zac Efron.

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

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.