Manhattan Prep GRE Blog

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Buttress and Bolster


This post from Damn You, Auto Correct! inappropriately inserts the word buttressed:

As a noun, a buttress is a structure, usually brick or stone, built against a wall for support or reinforcement; something resembling a buttress, such as the flared base of certain tree trunks, a horny growth on the heel of a horse’s hoof, or a projection from a mountainside; or just anything that serves to support, prop, or reinforce.

As a verb, to buttress means “to support or reinforce with a buttress; to sustain, prop, or bolster.”

The related word bolster means, literally, a long narrow pillow or cushion, but you can also use the word as a verb to mean “to support or prop up with or as if with a long narrow pillow or cushion; to buoy up or hearten.”

So, let’s get this straight — a buttress is a support for a building and a bolster is more of a support for your back when you sit down. But you can use both words to mean “to support.” An army can buttress its defenses, and someone can bolster your spirits with a care package.

Here is a previous post on the Vocabulary Blog about buttress.

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Objects of Antiquity Edition!


In this post on Damn You, Auto Correct!, someone is unintentionally referring to tiles used in mosaics:

According to Wikipedia, a tessera (plural: tesserae) is “an individual tile in a mosaic, usually formed in the shape of a cube.”

Tesserae is also the term for dice used in ancient Rome (makes sense — they’re cubes!) or for the layers of calcification on sharks’ otherwise cartilaginous jaws and backbones (um, interesting).

And now, this post:

A garderobe is a chamber for storing clothes, a wardrobe; or the clothes stored in such a chamber; or simply any private chamber.

The word is Middle English from Old French and really does come from the roots for “guarding” your “robes.” (So does the word “wardrobe,” actually.)

PopVocab: Daniel Craig and “Fawnography”


From the Daily Mail:


This article about the very important wedding of Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz — and the partners they left behind, including esrtwhile inamorata Satsuki Mitchell — contained some interesting vocabulary words.

Razzmatazz is “a flashy action or display intended to bewilder, confuse, or deceive; Ambiguous or evasive language; double talk; Ebullient energy; vim.”

(Read an entire post about “vim” here!)

Myriad means “constituting a very large, indefinite number; innumerable.” You can use it as an adjective or a noun, as in, “I have learned myriad GRE words!” or “I need to learn a myriad of these freaking GRE words!”

(For more words for “a lot,” see the post A Plethora of Words for a Plethora).

Minutiae is the plural of minutia, “a small or trivial detail.”

Other words for a small amount include iota and modicum.

Finally, fawnography isn’t exactly a word in the sense that it isn’t in dictionaries, but a person with a robust vocabulary should certainly understand that fawning is exhibiting affection or attempting to please (especially in a dog-like way), or seeking favor or attention by flattery and obsequious behavior. So, a fawnography is like a “sucking-up” biography.

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

PopVocab: Keith Olbermann is Stentorian


From People magazine:

Keith Olberman’s “stentorian sarcasm can grow smug” (ooh, alliteration!), but he’s a “true political brawler.”

Stentorian means “very loud or powerful in sound,” but the word’s origin is much more interesting than that. In Greek mythology, Stentor was a herald for the Greek side in the Trojan War. Homer said his “voice was as powerful as fifty voices of other men”!

A brawler is simply a person who gets into brawls. A brawl is “a noisy quarrel, squabble, or fight; or a bubbling or roaring noise; a clamor.”

Similar to a brawl is a fracas, fray, mêlée, scuffle, altercation, or — if you are feeling very old-fashioned — fisticuffs or donnybrook.

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

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Topography and Palingenesis


In post from Damn You, Auto Correct!, a romantic moment is ruined by obscure math references:

The best definition I could find for topology is, “The mathematical study of the geometric properties that are not normally affected by changes in the size or shape of geometric figures. In topology, a donut and a coffee cup with a handle are equivalent shapes, because each has a single hole.”

If you’ve ever heard this word before, it might be in the context of a topographical map, which shows surface features such as mountain ranges, glaciers, and valleys.

This post introduced a similarly obscure word from theology:

Palingenesis has a couple of definitions:

Theology: The doctrine of transmigration of souls; spiritual rebirth through metempsychosis of Christian baptism

Biology: The repetition by a single organism of various stages in the evolution of its species during embryonic development.

This all makes sense if you know that palin is a Greek root meaning “again,” and genesis, of course, means birth or creation.

The root palin (not sure if there’s a connection to the former governor of Alaska) also occurs in palindrome, a word that can be read the same way forwards or backwards (Mom! Dad! Wow!) and palimpsest, parchment from which earlier writing has been removed to clear it for new writing.

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

Vocabulary Misunderstandings: Inmate Sues Prison for Calling Him an “Inmate”


Oh, this is rich. From the Daily Mail:

The inmate’s sister told the New York Post that the use of the word inmate “implies that our brother is locked up for the purpose of mating with other men.”


The sister, who is also acting as the family’s lawyer, also said, “I couldn’t understand why no one recognised that somebody being labelled an inmate, why they wouldn’t recognise that…. To me it just sounded very wrong.”

Hmmn, I wonder why other people don’t immediately associate “inmate” with “mating”? Perhaps because of….

a ship’s mate or “first mate”
“Ahoy, matey!”
the fact that British people call their friends “mates”
the fact that etymologies can easily be looked up online by anyone for free at any time

According to Etymonline, “mate” meaning “companion, associate, fellow, comrade” dates from the late 14th century from the Middle Low German gemate, “one eating at the same table, messmate” from a Germanic root for “having food together.”

So, being called an “inmate” certainly does imply that you eat food with the other prisoners. Oh no! How degrading.

While we’re on the topic, here are some GRE words related to crime and punishment:

Indict – to charge with an offense or crime; accuse of wrongdoing; castigate; criticize

Depose – to testify or affirm under oath, especially in a written statement; to take the deposition of or examine under oath; or to remove (a ruler) from office or position, especially high office

Penal – of, pertaining to, or involving punishment

Heck, we’re surprised this guy’s sister isn’t complaining about the penal code.

Belated July 4th Post: Fireworks are “Hegemonic”?



According to Slate, fireworks suck:

The professional fireworks display is an exercise in pomposity, aggression, triumphalism, and hubris.

Pomposity, of course, is the noun form of pompous, “Characterized by excessive self-esteem or exaggerated dignity; pretentious.”

Triumphalism is “The attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, especially a religion or political theory, is superior to all others,” or “excessive celebration of the defeat of one’s enemies or opponents.”

Hubris is “Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance.”

The pyrotechnician”and, more importantly, his patron”intends to ornament the night sky beyond the powers of God himself. He means to inspire awe for little purpose other than to demonstrate his power. The first great fireworks nuts in the Western world were Peter the Great (who put on a five-hour show to celebrate the birth of his first son) and Louis XIV (who, with a specially equipped sundial, used them to tell time at Versailles).

A pyrotechnician (or pyrotechnist) is “a person skilled in the use and handling of fireworks.”

Fireworks are imperialist and, as we used to say in school, hegemonic. That they are popularly believed to be populist entertainment does not say much for the populace.

Hegemonic is the adjective form of hegemony, “The predominant influence, as of a state, region, or group, over another or others.”

Populist means “of or relating to populism; appealing to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people.”

In other words, fireworks are an American way of showing off our aggressive military might, and defying nature by impressing people! Hmmn, I’m not sure that ornamenting things for no greater purpose than to inspire awe is all that iniquitous — don’t we regularly make buildings, and monuments, and works of art, and nightclub-appropriate garments for just that purpose?

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

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Ominous!


From Damn You, Auto Correct!:

Ominous, of course, means “Menacing; threatening; of or being an omen, especially an evil one.”

Ominous could be said to be the antonym of auspicious, which means “attended by favorable circumstances; marked by success.”

I need to get my hearing aids checked! What I heard as the ominous sound of thunder was really the auspicious sound of the ice cream truck rumbling down the street!

The word propitious can be used in the same way as auspicious, meaning “presenting favorable circumstances.”

iPhone Vocabulary Fail: Clepsydra


The blog Damn You, Auto Correct! posts screenshots of predictive text programs (mostly the iPhone’s Auto Correct) predicting very, very badly.

While most of the humor is related to people sending inappropriately lewd messages to their family members and coworkers (I wouldn’t recommend reading the site at work), sometimes some pretty good vocabulary words pop up! (I am an iPhone user, and I cannot tell you how many times the iPhone has assumed that, by typing “new” or “never,” what I really wanted was “neocolonialism.”)

Here is a classic:

A clepsydra is in fact a Greek water clock! Even more interestingly, clepsydra contains the root “kleps” (“to steal”), which also occurs in kleptomania, which means compulsive stealing.

If you think of the march of time as “stealing” moments of your life from you, then you could think of the clepsydra as “stealing” the water that marks time.

A few other time words you want to know for the GRE are:

Chronological – Arranged in order of time of occurrence.

Anachronism – The representation of someone as existing or something as happening in other than chronological, proper, or historical order.

Dilatory – Intended to delay; tending to postpone or delay.

Temporize – To act evasively in order to gain time, avoid argument, or postpone a decision.

Oh, and a horologium is a clock tower. Now you know!

Every year, your birthday gift to me is dilatory! I can recount in chronological order every time you have temporized to explain why, once again, your gift to me is “in the mail”!

This year, you finally realized that I do NOT like to receive games for the Wii (I think you just buy me those so you can play with them yourself), and that I actually like to receive anachronistic timepieces for my collection.

So, it’s nice that you found me a clepsydra on eBay, but honestly, I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m going to go pout in the horologium.

No, I know that my bedroom is not a real horologium, but that’s what I like to call it, since it’s full of hourglasses and sundials and it’s on the third floor.

Intractable Vomiting is the Very Worst Kind!


Intractable means:

  1. Difficult to manage or govern; stubborn.
  2. Difficult to mold or manipulate: intractable materials.
  3. Difficult to alleviate, remedy, or cure: intractable pain.

While looking up intractable on, we were treated to this lovely ad:

Oh no! No one wants intractable vomiting!

Speaking of which, you probably wouldn’t want recalcitrant or intransigent vomiting, either!

Incidentally, all three of these words are most commonly used to describe people who are stubborn. But you can also have a recalcitrant bureaucracy, an intransigent problem — or, obviously, an intractable propensity to lose your lunch.