This week we turn from some of the more fun sins like lust and gluttony to a more violent one: wrath. In Catholicism, wrath is defined as immoderate or uncontrolled anger or hatred. In his famous Inferno, the first part of his Divine Comedy, Dante splits wrathful sinners into two rivers: the merely angry swim about in the river Styx while being periodically poked by demons with pointy pitchforks, while the more violent ones are simmering in the river Phlegethon, which courses with boiling blood (and also has demons). There are many excellent potential GRE vocab words that have to do with the sin of wrath, including: conniption, ire, choler, irascibility, ferocity, rampant/rampage, rabid, furor, and livid.
The word conniption is something of an etymological mystery. It first emerged in American English between 1825 and 1835 (the John Quincy Adams/Andrew Jackson years), and no one is quite sure where it came from, although a number of theories have been proposed. It could be: an arbitrary pseudo-Latin sounding word meant to sound fancier than it really is; a derivative of ‘corruption,’ which was apparently used to mean anger in certain early 19th century American dialects; or, my personal favorite, a derivative of the English dialectical “canapshus,” which was probably a corruption of the word captious, which means “apt to notice and make much of trivial faults or defects; faultfinding; difficult to please” and derives from the Latin captiosus, which means sophistical. Anyway, a conniption, or a conniption fit, is a fit of hysterical excitement or anger, as in, “Don’t have a conniption fit, man! Chill out!”
Choler refers to irascibility, anger, wrath, or irritability in general. It can also refer to yellow bile. To find out how these two meanings are related, read my previous post on Medieval Medicine and GRE Vocab. Ferocity, or the quality of being ferocious, refers to “savage fierceness,” and derives from the synonymous Latin word ferocitas. It first entered the English language around 1600-1610.
Ire, rage, and fury are three words that are often used as synonyms, but they actually have subtle differences in meaning. According to thesaurus.com, ire suggests greater intensity than anger, rage suggests loss of self-control, and fury is destructive rage verging on madness. The word ire came to English from Latin by way of Old French in the 1200s and derives from the synonymous Latin word ira, as in Dies irae, or “day of wrath,” a famous part of the requiem mass, or the Catholic mass for the dead, which describes judgement day, the climax of the apocalypse. Here’s Verdi’s famous setting:
Ira is actually the Latin word the Catholic church uses to describe the sin of wrath. Irascible, which means easily angered, and irate, which means very angry, are also derived from ira. Rage also came to English from Latin by way of French around the same time as ire. It is derived from the Latin word rabies, meaning madness or rage. As you might have guessed, rage is a paronym of rabies, the disease. While the word rabid can literally refer to someone or something who has rabies, it also retains its older meaning of furious or raging. Remember, the GRE likes to test the unfamiliar definitions of familiar words, so take note! Fury of course comes from the ancient Roman goddesses of vengeance, the Furies, or Furiae, who would punish and pursue those who committed crimes in the eyes of the gods. It came to English direct from Latin in the mid-fourteenth century. The word furor, which means fury, rage or madness, has a similar derivation and came to English about a century later.
Rampage and rampant are two other related words that have to do with wrath. As you might have been able to guess from their -age and -ant endings, these words are derived from French, specifically the verb ramper, which means ‘to rear up on one’s hind legs.’ Generally, when animals rear up on their hind legs, they are not happy. Rampant can thus mean violent in action or spirit, raging, or furious, and a rampage is a state of violent anger or agitation characterized by wanton destruction. Rampant has also come to mean unchecked or widespread, as in, say, ‘rampant corruption.’
The word livid entered English around the 1620s, coming straight from the Latin word lividus, which means ‘black and blue.’ Today, livid has come to have several meanings, which I have arranged in an order that suggests how the meanings may have evolved. Livid means: dull blue or dark, grayish-blue; having a discolored, bluish appearance caused by a bruise, congestion of blood vessels, strangulation; feeling or appearing strangulated because of strong emotion (especially anger); enraged or furiously angry; reddish or flushed; or even deathly pale, pallid, or ashen. Thus, because it has developed this emotionally charged meaning, livid can now mean red, white, or blue.
So, with all this anger in the world, what’s a poor, lost soul to do? Cultivate the heavenly virtue of patience. In Catholic theology, patience is not merely the ability to wait for something; it is the ability to restrain one’s violent impulses and to understand the point of view of others. Patience is thus seen as the ultimate weapon in the fight against wrath. The word patience is derived from the synonymous Latin word patientia. A number of good GRE vocab words relating to patience include: ataraxy/ataraxia, equanimity, clemency, and forbearance.
Ataraxy, or ataraxia, is a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety, or tranquility. It derives from the ancient Greek word ataraktos, which means untroubled (the verb tarassein means ‘to trouble,’ and the prefix a- in Greek means without). It was the goal of several ancient philosophies – Epicureanism, for instance. Attaining a state of ataraxia required great patience, since you couldn’t let the little things in life get to you. Equanimity refers to mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain. It derives from the Latin aequanimitas, which is a combination of aequs, which means equal or even, and animus, which means spirit, soul, or mind. It entered English at the same time as ferocity, in the 1600s, and ataraxia first began showing up around five years before that.
Clemency means forgiveness or leniency, and a person who shows clemency is said to be clement. That’s why Popes sometimes like to take the name Clement – Clementine is the feminine version of the name, as in the song “Oh my darlin’ Clementine”:
“Inclement weather” is thus unmerciful weather. Clemency is derived from the Latin clementia, and it entered late Middle English/Anglo-French in the late fourteenth century. Forbearance, which also refers to patient endurance or self-control, is a quality you may have needed in order to have made it this far into this post. The verb, to forbear, is a very old English word (before 900 AD – I don’t think people wrote anything in English before then), that derives from the Old English forberan, which is related to the Gothic (as in the Goths who helped destroy the Roman empire) frabairan.
That’s enough for today, I think. Always remember that if you want even more help preparing for the GRE, you can study with experts like me through Test Masters. Which sin could be next? Sloth? Envy? Pride? You’ll just have to wait and see. Until then, keep studying!