Manhattan Prep GRE Blog

Vocabulary Through Star Trek


TheMarySue has brought The Star Trek Book of Opposites to our attention!

Here is one review of the book:

“Are you tired of all those boring, pedestrian, and antiquated board books for children that you are forced to read over and over again? Of course you are! That’s why creative authors like David Borgenicht are coming up with innovative board books that will keep you, the parent, from going insane. Behold the Star Trek Book of Opposites from Quirk Books.” ”

A pedestrian can certainly be “a person who goes or travels on foot,” but as an adjective, pedestrian means “lacking in vitality, imagination, distinction, etc.; commonplace; prosaic or dull.” Related GRE words are mundane and quotidian.

Here are some images from the book:

I figured I’d try this myself with GRE-level vocabulary:


Brinkmanship is “the technique or practice of maneuvering a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance or safety in order to secure the greatest advantage, especially by creating diplomatic crises.”


A voluptuary is “a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit and enjoyment of luxury and sensual pleasure.”


An argot is a specialized idiomatic vocabulary peculiar to a particular class, profession or social group.


imperturbability is the state of being “incapable of being upset or agitated; not easily excited; calm.”

Irene Followup: Strafe, Flank, Berm, Herculean


In followup to the previous post about Hurricane Irene, this article from last week contained some unusual vocabulary words:

After the Outer Banks, the storm strafed Virginia with rain and strong wind. It covered the Hampton Roads region, which is thick with inlets and rivers and floods easily, and chugged north toward Chesapeake Bay. Shaped like a massive inverted comma, the storm had a thick northern flank that covered all of Delaware, almost all of Maryland and the eastern half of Virginia.

To strafe (obviously being used metaphorically here) is to “attack (ground troops, for example) with a machine gun or cannon from a low-flying aircraft.”

As a noun, a flank is a lateral part or side — as in, flank steak, or the flank of a mountain.

To flank — another military metaphor — means:

1. To protect or guard the flank of.
2. To menace or attack the flank of.
3. To be placed or situated at the flank or side of: Two stone lions flanked the entrance.
4. To put (something) on each side of: flanked the driveway with tall shrubs.

In other words, to flank is to do something along the side or sides of.

Long Beach, New York, where the surf is starting to pick up and they’re building berms to absorb the sea surge when it comes ashore overnight and Sunday.

A berm is “a narrow ledge or shelf, as along the top or bottom of a slope” or “a nearly horizontal or landward-sloping portion of a beach, formed by the deposition of sediment by storm waves.” To build a berm in preparation for a storm would mean to build up the beach so that it no longer slopes down towards the water.

In New York, authorities began the herculean job of bringing the city to a halt.

Image is “Hercules and the Centaur” by Giovanni da Bologna.

Herculean, of course, means “of unusual size, power, or difficulty” — as in, a job you wish you had Hercules to do for you.

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?

PopVocab: Ivanka the Scion (and Her Mini-Mogul)


A scion is a descendant or heir, generally of a rich person. And while there’s nothing in the dictionary definition about being male, culturally speaking, the word scion is almost always used to describe the son of a powerful man.

I have used scion in class as an example of denotation vs. connotation (the dictionary definition of a word versus the “feeling” or cultural baggage of the word), and was thinking: I’ve never heard anyone describe a woman as a scion, but there’s no reason you couldn’t. For instance, Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump.

While Paris Hilton is an “heiress” (no one thinks she’s going to end up running the Hilton hotel brand someday), Ivanka is a mogul in her own right.

A mogul is “an important or powerful person” or “a rich or powerful person.” The word derives from Moghul or Mughal, a member of the Muslim dynasty founded by Baber (or a soldier supporting that dynasty) that ruled India until 1857.

Another word that comes to us from Hindi is nabob, “a person of wealth and prominence.” This originally was a European who made his fortune in India or elsewhere in the East. (Indian restaurants called Nawab or other variant spellings are referencing this colonial legacy.)

A variety of celebrity-type articles have referred to Ivanka’s newborn baby as a “mini-mogul.” Interestingly, when I Googled to find an example, all the articles that used the phrase “mini-mogul” were from before Ivanka actually gave birth. No one has yet used the phrase to refer to the baby after it was born. Maybe because it’s a girl? Interesting.