Each week, “It’s not GREek!” will discuss a new word likely to appear on the GRE. We aim not only to give you a new word to memorize, but also to provide you with some background and etymological history to help you remember it. At the end of the post, we will also give you a sentence with a few other new words to add to your flash cards. By following this weekly series, you should be more prepared than ever to tackle the sentence completion, sentence equivalencies, and reading comprehension questions on test day.
This Week’s Word: Rostrum
Why put your pretty self on a pedestal when you can stand regal and roaring on a rostrum?
Rostrum is one of those GRE words with a million meanings, but the most commonly-used definition is a stage or raised platform for public speakings. In ancient Rome, a rostrum was a platform for public orators. Other words for such a structure include dais, podium and tribune.
Outside the world of public speaking, a rostrum can be the curved end of a ship’s prow or seafaring vessel. It can also be any animal’s bodily part shaped like a bird’s bill, ranging from a dolphin’s snout to the beak of various insects and arachnids.
How did one word come to take on such varied meanings? For our answer, we need look no farther than its Latin etymology.
In ancient Rome, the rostrum–platform stand for public speakers in the Forum–was decorated with the beaks of ships taken in the Roman republic’s first naval victory over Antium. We get our animal snout meaning from another Latin verb, rodere, which means to gnaw.