Manhattan Prep GRE Blog

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.

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.