Articles published in August 2011

Hurricane Irene: Incredibly Inappropriate Use of Vocabulary


“Hurricane Irene is tearing into town! You should be prepared ” sartorially, that is. In case your rainy day staples aren’t up to par, we found the jeans, trenches and boots to get you through this Category 3 storm in style.” -Lauren DeCarlo for

weatherYour blog editor is currently filing this post from Lower Manhattan, which is bracing itself for an inundation (a.k.a. a deluge).

One news reporter suggested we “hunker down,” an evocative expression that means:

  • 1. to crouch or squat; to sit on one’s haunches
  • 2. to settle in at a location for an extended period
  • 3. (figuratively) to maintain a position and resist yielding to some pressure, as of public opinion
  • 4. to take shelter, literally or figuratively; to assume a defensive position to resist difficulties

While checking storm coverage, this editor couldn’t help but cringe at this vocab-filled but phenomenally tactless ad:

Sartorial is a nice vocabulary word. It means “pertaining to tailors or clothing.”

Great. Moving on: 9 people have died and the storm hasn’t even hit NYC yet.

Tactless means “undiplomatic, offensively blunt, lacking tact.” Tact is “a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense; skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations.” Don’t confuse tact, tactful, and tactless with “tactical,” which means “relating to tactics, strategic.”

Here are some other words to describe this “article”:

Opportunistic, which means taking “opportunities” at the expense of others, or “the policy or practice, as in politics, business, or one’s personal affairs, of adapting actions, decisions, etc., to expediency or effectiveness regardless of the sacrifice of ethical principles.”

Crass, which means “without refinement, delicacy, or sensitivity; gross; obtuse; stupid.”

The article itself is much worse.

“Irene is packing wind gusts up to 125 mph. Keep your fly-aways in place with this pretty headband from Anthropologie.”

“Puddles and pants don’t mix so swing by National Jean Company and try on a pair of AG’s Stilt Roll-Up Jeans. Not only are they cropped, but they’re not too tight at the hem so you can still roll them up an inch ” just in case. Parts of Puerto Rico got dumped with 10 inches of rain”don’t you want to be prepared?”

(As of right now, President Obama has signed a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.)

According to the writer, “Rainy days means comfy days, but don’t slack off when it comes to your style.” For Hurricane Irene, you should wear an Ann Taylor sleeveless trench, a $300 silk maxi dress (dry clean only), and an Anthropologie headband, while you carry a “bubble umbrella.” You are warned that “a hat might be too much.”

Also, sleeveless trenchcoats are ridiculous. Haiku:

Oh, sleeveless trenchcoat.
Like a sock without a heel,
Dumb in bad weather.

In fact, I have a good word for useless fashion objects, especially in inappropriate environments:


  • 1. finery in dress, especially when showy, gaudy, or the like.
  • 2. empty display; ostentation.
  • 3. gewgaws; trifles.

Quiz yourself: Can you define inundate, deluge, hunker down, sartorial, tactless, tact, tactical, opportunistic, crass, and frippery? Should you use potential national disasters to sell clothes? (Hint: Reread the post for definitions, and no, you really shouldn’t.)

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Look Over My Regime?


In this post from Damn You, Auto Correct!, someone needs his military rulership to be proofread:

People often confuse regime, regimen, and regiment. All three share the root regere, which also gives us regal, and certainly all three are related to structure, order, and control.

Regime means “a form of government; a government in power or administration; or a prevailing social system or pattern.”

Regimen means “governmental rule or control” (wait, isn’t that what regime means?), “the systematic procedure of a natural phenomenon or process,” or “A regulated system, as of diet, therapy, or exercise, intended to promote health or achieve another beneficial effect; a course of intense physical training.”

Regiment means “a military unit of ground troops consisting of at least two battalions, usually commanded by a colonel; a large group of people,” or as a verb, “to form into a regiment, to put into systematic order.”

Confusingly, regime can also mean “a regulated system, as of diet and exercise; a regimen.”

So, in sum:

I am starting a new skincare regimen (or regime, although people might look at you funny).

The people are oppressed under the shah’s regime.

Oh no, the British regiment is marching into Boston!

The new faculty advisor has decided to regiment our planning by holding us to regular biweekly meetings.

None of these words, of course, mean resumé.

Vocab at the Movies: Derelicte!



The 2001 comedy Zoolander famously featured a fashion line entitled, “Derelicte” (the French version of derelict).

According to Wikipedia:

It is described by Mugatu in the film as “a fashion, a way of life inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique.” The fashion line consists of clothing made from everyday objects that could be found on the streets of New York. Derelicte is a parody of a real fashion line created by John Galliano in 2000.

Derelict means “left or deserted, as by the owner or guardian; abandoned.” As a noun, it can also mean “a person abandoned by society; vagrant; bum” or “one guilty of neglect of duty.” That is, a derelict can be the person who was abandoned or the person doing the abandoning (although the former usage is more common).

A similar word, dilapidated, means “reduced to or fallen into partial ruin or decay, as from age, wear, or neglect.”

Finally, a third “d” word, decrepit, means “weakened by old age; feeble; infirm,” or “worn out by long use; dilapidated.”

Note that something that is in bad condition from neglect could be derelict or dilapidated, but something that is in bad condition from being used a lot is dilapidated (but not derelict). People are not described as derelict (the adjective) or dilapidated; decrepit can describe people, but it’s a pretty terrible word.

In sum:

The burned-out Chevy in the front yard was certainly derelict/dilapidated/decrepit.

The decrepit old man stood no chance against the hooligans.

The City Council voted to remove park benches in order to discourage derelicts from sleeping on them.

The teenager carried her dilapidated notebook around with her everywhere.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Prolix! Prolix!


The dark, debonair, and articulate (“I see they’ve published another volume of unreconstructed rubbish!”) Nick Cave has a song that prominently features the word prolix.


He said everything is messed up around here, everything is banal and jejune
There is a planetary conspiracy against the likes of you and me in this idiot constituency of the moon
Well, he knew exactly who to blame
And we call upon the author to explain

Prolix! Prolix! Nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix!
Prolix! Prolix! Nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix!

Prolix means “Tediously prolonged; wordy; tending to speak or write at excessive length.”

Other GRE words for “wordy” or “talkative” include loquacious, verbose, and garrulous.

So, if writing or speech is prolix, a metaphorical pair of scissors might indeed be able to perform an abscission.

Incidentally, watching this video reminds me of one time I was teaching an SAT class, and a young man asked in frustration, “Why do I have to learn all these stupid words?”

I said, “So later you can date smart women.”

He did not expect that answer and piped down immediately. Maybe he has since grow up to be a little more like Nick Cave than he would have been otherwise.

Vocab in the Classics: Attenuate


hemingwayWhile Ernest Hemingway was not a fan of bombastic language, this quote from For Whom the Bell Tolls gives an excellent description of what it means for something — in this case, anger — to be attenuated.

“His rage began to thin as he exaggerated more and more and spread his scorn and contempt so widely and unjustly that he could no longer believe in it himself.”

The word attenuate often confuses people a bit — it means to make slender, weaken, or rarefy. It often means a combination of those things:

Some critics of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting suggest that parents of so many children must necessarily attenuate their attention, depriving each child of needed care. Others point out that the children seem happy, perhaps more so than many in more conventional families.

So, to attenuate affection is to weaken it by spreading it too thin. You could attenuate a piece of bubble gum by pulling on it until it became thin and weak.

If you attenuate your GRE studies over too long a period of time, you’ll probably lose focus and start forgetting things. Full speed ahead!

Vocabulary Shopping: Ingenue, Precedent, Lilliputian


Modcloth is an online women’s clothing store, and their product names often include puns — for instance, “By Land or By Seersucker,” or “Un-twill We Meet Again.”

Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to get the joke without a formidable lexicon:

I Ingenue It!

An ingenue is a “naive, innocent girl or young woman,” or the role of such a woman in a play or movie, or an actress who plays such roles. So while it might sound bad to be “naive,” the word “ingenue” is often used positively to refer to the new “it girl” in the movies.

Ingenue is related to two other words that are much more likely to appear on the GRE — ingenuous and its antonym, disingenuous.

Ingenuous means “lacking in cunning, guile, or worldliness; artless,” or “openly straightforward or frank; candid.” (You can just memorize that inGENUous means GENUine — that’s a pretty good trick, right?) That is, ingenuousness is good when you want someone to be honest with you, but it’s a terrible quality for your lawyer to have — you need him or her to be crafty and cunning.

Disingenuous means “not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating” — in other words, not genuine.

Set a President Dress

This play on words references the expression “set a precedent.”

Precedent shares a root with precede, “to come before.”

A precedent is “an act or instance that may be used as an example in dealing with subsequent similar instances.” For instance:

Eleanor Roosevelt set a precedent for First Ladies’ publicly leading substantial projects rather than merely hosting dinner parties and quietly supporting uncontroversial charities.

Lily-putian Loveliness Dress

Ha! This, of course, is a play on lilliputian, meaning “very small.”

Read more about lilliputian in this post: Vocab at the Movies: Gulliver’s Travels.

PopVocab: Let’s Learn Vocab from the Dalai Lama’s Twitter Feed!


You can follow the Dalai Lama on Twitter here, although we doubt he writes the posts himself. Let’s see some of his pithy remarks.

Altruism is “unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.”

Mundane means “of the world, secular” or “ordinary, concerned with commonplaces.” A synonym is quotidian.

Equanimity means “the quality of being calm and even-tempered; composure.” It comes from the Latin “aequus” for “even” and “animus” for “mind.”

Did you know that animus (the same root in animation) is actually a word in its own right? Animus means “an attitude that informs one’s actions,” or “a feeling of animosity; ill will,” as in, “He couldn’t get over his animus enough to work for his old childhood nemesis.”

Forbearance means “Tolerance and restraint in the face of provocation; patience.” And if you’ve gotten in trouble with your student loans, you know it also means “The act of a creditor who refrains from enforcing a debt when it falls due.”

Impartial means “fair, unbiased, not prejudiced.”

This Tweet didn’t use any GRE-style vocabulary words, but it did remind me of one: syncretism, the “reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.”

Feeling enlightened yet?