Tag Archive for 'new gre vocabulary'

Obscure Curses & Interesting Insults – GRE Vocabulary at its Worst!

One of the problems with the continued devolution (u kno wht i mean) of the English language is that we have lost our touch for awesome and clever insults. Rather than relying upon carefully crafted vituperates, most people express themselves with simple, cheap put-downs. Instead of “quiet, you feeble-minded imbecile,” we usually settle with phrases like “he dumb,” or “you dumb,” or “hey dummy, you stupid.” A larger vocabulary will not only help you ace the GRE Verbal Reasoning and Text Completion section, but may also reverse this recent societal trend… besides, the satisfaction you receive from insulting your myriad acquaintances will be doubled by the fact that, by using your newly expanded GRE vocabulary, they probably won’t have any idea they’ve been insulted until you are walking away.

So… let’s start with a classic putdown, “You are old.” Yo momma so old

We have all heard of The Flood, “the universal deluge recorded as having occurred in the days of Noah,” but many of us are less acquainted with the history of the world prior to that torrential downpour. Antediluvian literally translates to “before the deluge”, and wild theories persist today concerning antediluvian civilizations and what they may have done to cause The Flood (this article posits that God had to send The Flood to thwart the Babylonians’ nuclear ambitions). Though the literal connotation associated with the word antediluvian has weakened over time (today, the word is more closely associated with being old-fashioned), as an interesting insult antediluvian is the perfect word to help an older foe or friend feel their age. Shall we use it in a sentence?

“That antediluvian hag next door hates my rock and roll lifestyle.”

“Which of you hate-mongering antediluvians wrote ‘You’re too old to dress like that!’ on my door?”

(Or, more seriously) “Partisan Congressional politics exemplify the antediluvian nature of America’s two-party system.”


In addition to being a fun word to tease your older brother or sister with, antediluvian serves as a useful vocabulary lesson for students preparing to take the GRE. The lesson behind this word can actually be found in front of it, in its prefix ante-. “Ante-” means before in time or position to, previous to, and in front of. Other GRE words with “ante-” include antebellum, antecedent, and antepenultimate. Notice that each one of these words refers, in some way, to coming before something else; so, in the future, if you see the prefix “ante-” but don’t recognize the base or root word to which it is attached, you should at least be able to make an educated guess.


This concludes the first entry of what will be a series of outrageous and (hopefully) creative insults. Check back soon to see our next installment!

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GRE Vocab – Country Mouse, City Mouse


Arthur Rackham’s classic illustration of Æsop’s fable.

In this GRE Vocab post, we’ll discuss words that have to do with the country and the city. Comparisons between country life and city life have probably been around since urban centers first arose some 10,000 years ago (give or take a few), and one of the most famous examples can be found in Æsop’s fable of the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, reproduced in Joseph Jacobs’ 1894 translation below:

Now you must know that a Town Mouse once upon a time went on a visit to his cousin in the country. He was rough and ready, this cousin, but he loved his town friend and made him heartily welcome. Beans and bacon, cheese and bread, were all he had to offer, but he offered them freely. The Town Mouse rather turned up his long nose at this country fare, and said: “I cannot understand, Cousin, how you can put up with such poor food as this, but of course you cannot expect anything better in the country; come you with me and I will show you how to live. When you have been in town a week you will wonder how you could ever have stood a country life.” No sooner said than done: the two mice set off for the town and arrived at the Town Mouse’s residence late at night. “You will want some refreshment after our long journey,” said the polite Town Mouse, and took his friend into the grand dining-room. There they found the remains of a fine feast, and soon the two mice were eating up jellies and cakes and all that was nice. Suddenly they heard growling and barking. “What is that?” said the Country Mouse. “It is only the dogs of the house,” answered the other. “Only!” said the Country Mouse. “I do not like that music at my dinner.” Just at that moment the door flew open, in came two huge mastiffs, and the two mice had to scamper down and run off. “Good-bye, Cousin,” said the Country Mouse, “What! going so soon?” said the other. “Yes,” he replied; “Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.”

Gustave Doré’s depiction of the interrupted feast in the city.

While the moral of Æsop’s original fable was that riches aren’t worth risking one’s life for, when Beatrix Potter (of Peter Rabbit fame) retold it in 1918, she changed the story up so that the moral would be that tastes differ: some people prefer country life while others prefer city life. This is perhaps the most familiar version presented to children today, with its emphasis on tolerance rather than mortal terror.

One word that perhaps illustrates the city mouse’s self-image as a suave sophisticate is urbane. Urbane means having the polish and suavity regarded as characteristic of sophisticated social life in major cities. It came to English from Latin by way of French in the 1530s, when it originally simply meant urban. The sense of elegance and sophistication only came later in the 1620s. In many ways, rustic can be considered the opposite of urbane. Rustic can mean literally of, pertaining to, or living in the country; or it can mean simple, artless, or unsophisticated; it can even mean uncouth, rude, or boorish. It entered English in the 1440s from the Latin rusticus, meaning “open land or country.” The noun for the quality of being rustic is rusticity, but the noun rustication means something a little different. The verb to rusticate refers to the going to live in the countryside, but in the U.K. it can also refer to being expelled from an educational institution, thanks to the remarkable English talent for euphemism.  Back in the old days, when the sons of the English gentry came of age they would leave their family estates in the countryside to study at Oxford or Cambridge for university. If they did poorly, they would be “rusticated” – sent back home to their country estates – as punishment.

17th century French painter Claude Lorrain was famous for his pastoral subjects.

Lest one get the impression that all city words mean something good while all country words mean something bad, it is worth noting that there are also plenty of words that idealize the countryside, such as bucolic, idyllic, and pastoral. Pastoral means having the simplicity, charm, serenity, or other characteristics generally attributed to rural areas, and is often used to describe works of art, music, or literature that idealize the countryside. When it originally entered English from French, it simply meant having to do with shepherds; the words “pastoral” and “pasture” both derive from the Latin root pastor (which, incidentally, is also the root of the word pastor – pastor originally meant “shepherd”). An idyll is a poem or prose composition, usually describing pastoral scenes or events or any charmingly simple episode, appealing incident, or the like. If something is suitable for or suggestive of an idyll by virtue of being charmingly simple or rustic, then it is idyllic. The word idyll first entered English around the year 1600 from the Latin idyllium, although the genre of poetry goes back millennia to ancient Greece, where such poems were referred to as eidyllion. Bucolic means pastoral or of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life. It attained its current English form in the 1610s, although it existed as “bucolical” from the 1520s. It is derived from the Latin bucolicus, which is in turn derived from the Ancient Greet buokolikos, which came from the Greek work buokolos, which literally meant “cowherd.”

The word bourgeois, on the other hand, is a citified word with a somewhat negative connotation. As an adjective, it can simply mean conventional, middle-class, or even materialistic; as a noun it can refer to a member of the middle class or a person whose political, economic, and social opinions are believed to be determined mainly by concern for property values and conventional respectability. It derives from the French word bourgeois, which referred to the middle classes from the 1560s on. It in turn derives from the Old French borjois, which simply meant “town dweller.” Ultimately, the root of this word was the Frankish burg, which meant “town,” and continues to be used in modern German. For a thoroughly bourgeois and kitschy song and dance routine from the 60s further explaining the difference between urban and rural, see the video below! (Also, this is totally how my parents discuss their retirement plans.)

For one final pair of country/city words, consider agrarian and oppidan. The word agrarian means rural or agricultural (although it can also have more technical meanings related to agriculture and agricultural law). It entered English in the 1610s from the French loy agrarienne, or “agrarian law,” a term which was adopted from the Roman lex agraria. Interestingly, scholars believe that agrarian and acre share the same Proto-Indo-European root, agros, which originally meant “field.” Oppidan is a rather unusual word that is simply a synonym of urban. It entered English in the 1530s from the Latin oppid, which means town. While this word is rather uncommon, it’s a good one to save for when the dukes and maharajas invite you to tea – it’s sure to impress!

Always remember, if you want that extra edge on the competition on test day, you can always study with GRE experts like me at Test Masters. Until then, keep up the good work and happy studying!


GRE Vocab – Croesus, Mogul, and Nabob

Let’s face it: one reason why you want to go to grad school is so that you can get rich and famous (or at least avoid living on the streets). With this post, you’ll learn a few choice million dollar words that you can use as you move up in the world (and they’ll help you study for the GRE, too).

Perhaps you hope your degree will help you become a nabob, a mogul, or a Croesus. All of these words refer to rich people, but their origins and histories give them slightly different meanings. All three of them have to do with European fascination with the riches of the orient, and the association of great wealth with exotic Asian potentates.

Solon and Croesus, by Gerard van Honthorst (1624).

Solon and Croesus, by Gerard van Honthorst (1624).

The oldest of the three is Croesus (pronounced cree-sus), as in the proverbial saying “rich as Croesus.” Croesus reigned from 560 to 547 B.C. as the last King of Lydia, a region in Asia Minor (or modern day Turkey), and he was known for his immense wealth. This wealth did not buy him wisdom in all things, however; when the celebrated Athenian lawmaker and sage Solon came to visit the Lydian court, Croesus asked Solon if he had ever seen anyone happier than Croesus himself. To this, the wise Solon replied that only those who have died happy can be said to be truly happy, for the fates are fickle and the riches of the living are often transient. Croesus was displeased with this answer, and paid it no heed at the time. It was only later when the flames were licking at his toes as he sat awaiting his death upon a funeral pyre, his kingdom overrun by Cyrus the Great of Persia, that he said to himself, “Maybe that Solon knew what he was about after all.” (Fortunately for Croesus, Apollo intervened and brought a rainstorm to douse the flames, so Croesus was saved. For more on Croesus and other colorful characters from long ago and far away, I highly recommend the Histories of Herodotus.)

The Taj Mahal, symbol of Mughal opulence.

Moving forward in time and further East, we come to the moguls. The word mogul is derived from the Mughal dynasty, which ruled India from Babur’s victory at Panipat in 1526 to the Empire’s decline in the early 1700s. The Mughals ruled at a time of great prosperity in India and they were known for their opulent lifestyles (Shah Jahan famously built the Taj Mahal as a memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after her tragic and untimely death). The word “mogul” was a British corruption of the dynasty’s name, and in English it quickly came to refer to people of immense wealth and power, especially captains of industry. Today, for instance, a media mogul is someone who owns many newspapers, TV networks, etc.

The word nabob also has its roots in the India of the Mughal dynasty. Under the Mughal Imperial system, a nawab was a viceroy or regional governor. After the disastrous 27 year war that ended the Mughal empire in the early 18th century, many nawabs declared independence and became rulers of smaller states. Not long after this balkanization of India, the British East India Company began to increase its activities in the subcontinent, and the British once again employed their inexhaustible talent for mispronouncing the words of their colonized peoples to give us the term nabob. The British even began to apply it to themselves, and a nabob came to be a British man who went to India to make his fortune. Today, while nabob can still refer to a person, especially a European, who has made a large fortune in India or another country of the East, it can also more generally mean any very wealthy, influential, or powerful person.

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Sometimes it is GREek: Solipsism


“Poetry resembles metaphysics: one does not mind one’s own, but one does not like anyone else’s.” – Sam Butler

“It’s not GREek!” loves to discuss new words that are 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: Solipsism

Solipsism is the extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one’s feelings, desires, etc.; it is an egotistical self-absorption.

Solipsism also has a less egotistic and more ego-oriented definition. To philosophers, solipsism is the theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified; this is the theory that the self is the only reality.


“But what can a decent man speak of with most pleasure? / Answer: Of himself. / Well, so I will talk about myself.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

From the Latin solus, “alone” + ipse, “self,” solipsism holds that self is the only object of real knowledge; it is a skeptical hypothesis and ultimately leads to the belief that the external world is merely a representation of the individual self. Often considered a bankrupt philosophy, critics argue that a solipsist communicating philosophical ideas is ludicrous as, by definition, a true solipsist believes there is no other mind with whom they can communicate their beliefs.

Sample Sentence:

Salutary solipsist, Solomon, sanguinely salutes sophisticated sophistssophomoric sensibilities.

Miss the last “Sometimes it is Greek?” Check it out here! Want more GRE vocabulary? Click here for the free Test Masters GRE vocabulary list with over 2,000 words!

GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins: Part II – Avarice

An early sixteenth century Dutch depiction of the seven deadly sins, by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch.

An early sixteenth century Dutch depiction of the seven deadly sins, by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch.

Last time on GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins, we discussed words that have to do with the sin of lust and the virtue of chastity. This time, we move on to another deadly sin, avarice, and its corresponding heavenly virtue, charity.

What is avarice? In short, avarice means greed. It comes from the Latin verb avere, which means “to crave.” If  someone is guilty of the sin of avarice, you would say that that person or that person’s behavior was avaricious. In Catholicism, avarice is the sin of excessive desire for wealth and material possessions, especially when accompanied by a disregard for the well-being of others. Theologically, it is seen as the rejection of heavenly, spiritual treasures in favor of worldly, material ones.

Avidity, cupidity, rapacity, and acquisitiveness are all synonyms of avarice. You may know the word avid, which is an adjective that means showing great enthusiasm for or interest in something, as in “he is an avid reader.” The word avid came to the English language in the 1700s from the French word avide, which in turn was derived from…the Latin verb avere, the same root from which avarice is derived. It’s interesting to see how these two words evolved to have rather different meanings and connotations even though they come from the same root. Avid has lost its sinful connotations and has come to mean “enthusiastic,” whereas avarice is an official deadly sin. Avidity, a noun form of the adjective avid, retains the meaning of greed, however.

A 1610 painting of Cupid by Schedoni.You might think that the word cupidity would have something to do with love, since it has the name Cupid in it, and in Roman mythology Cupid was the son of the goddess of love, Venus, and he famously would cause people to fall in love with each other by shooting his arrows into their hearts. Originally, in Latin the word cupiditas (which derives from the Latin verb cupere, which means to desire, and is also a root of concupiscent, which you may remember from the post on lust) did have erotic overtones; the Romans sometimes gave their gods names that were literally the words for the abstract forces they were supposed to control, and so Cupid literally meant “desire.” Another name for him was Amor, which literally meant “love.” When the word moved from Latin to English in the 1400s, the desire for flesh transformed into a desire for gold. Cupidity today always means greed.

Rapacity is another word for greed. The adjective form of this word is rapacious, and you may have noticed that these words sound like another word you know: rape. All of these words derive from the Latin verb rapere, which means “to seize.” The word “rape” first entered what was then Middle English in the 1200s from French, which inherited the word from Latin itself. Given this organic evolution and the violent nature of life in the Dark Ages, it is not surprising that the word came to refer to the forcible  seizing of women. The words rapacity and rapacious, however, entered English directly from Latin some 400 years later during the 1600s, and were probably invented by Latin speaking scholars. These words thus retained more of their original, unsexualized, Latin meanings of seizing things in general, and over time came to refer to insatiable and even violent greed for material wealth.

The Worship of Mammon, by Evelyn de Morgan. Mammon was a demon associated with avarice.

The Worship of Mammon, by Evelyn de Morgan. Mammon was a demon associated with avarice.

Acquisitiveness, or the quality of being acquisitive,  also refers to the desire to amass material possessions, although it does not necessarily have as negative a connotation as the other words we have been discussing. An innocent stamp collector, for instance, could be in an acquisitive mood when she goes shopping for stamps on eBay. It can also, however, have nasty, greedy overtones depending on the context in which it is used. You may have noticed the word “acquire” lurking in these words. Acquire derives from the synonymous Latin verb aqcuirere, which has changed little over the years as you can see.

Avarice isn’t just about acquiring lots of stuff, though; it’s also about hoarding it all to yourself and refusing to share with others. The words miserliness, niggardliness, parsimoniousness, and penuriousness all have to do with this other aspect of greediness. A miser is a person who hoards money for its own sake and doesn’t even enjoy it. Ebeneezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,  is the ultimate miser (at least, until he gets some ghostly visits on Christmas Eve). Even though he is very rich, he refuses to spend money on coal to heat his offices properly, and his own home is shabby, drab, and dark. As the narrator informs us, “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” If a person behaves like a miser, you might call him or his actions miserly, and the quality of being miserly is miserliness. In Latin, miser originally meant wretched. You might also call a miser a skinflint, a pinchpenny, a tightwad, a cheapskate, or a niggard.

A what?! Despite what you may think, the word niggard has absolutely no relation to the denigrating racial epithet that derives from the word “negro.” Niggard comes from the Middle English word nyggard, which in turn came from the old Swedish word nygg, which simply meant stingy. Niggardly is a synonym of miserly, and niggardliness is a synonym of miserliness. The word “negro” came from the Spanish and Portuguese words for the color black, which were in turn were derived from the Latin word for black, niger. Even though the two words have completely different etymologies and meanings, the word niggard has fallen out of use in public speech because it sounds a lot like that other word, although sometimes it still can occur in written language where the distinction between the two words is clear. While this word is most likely disappearing from the English language, the GRE can still test you on it, so you still have to know it.

As a final note on avarice, I offer you this charming song from Gounod’s Faust, in which the demon Mephistopheles encourages the village folk to worship the Golden Calf, a symbol of money and greed from the Old Testament. It’s pretty catchy:

In Catholicism, the heavenly virtue meant to combat the sin of avarice is charity. According to the Roman Catholic Church, charity is not only the action of giving away money and possessions to the poor; the Latin word caritas from which the English word charity is derived is a synonym of the Greek word agape, which in Christian texts refers to universal love for all humanity. Charity is thus a form of love for humanity that is the opposite of the selfishness implied by greed or avarice. Words that relate to the heavenly virtue of charity include philanthropy, altruism, largesse, liberality, and munificence.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was a Guilded Age steel magnate who gave away the equivalent of 4.8 billion 2010 USD throughout his life to various projects, including Carnegie Hall, Carnegie-Mellon University, and countless public libraries.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was a Guilded Age steel magnate who gave away the equivalent of 4.8 billion 2010 USD throughout his life to various projects, including Carnegie Hall, Carnegie-Mellon University, and countless public libraries.

A philanthropist is a rich person who gives away lots of money to charity. Philanthropy is this form of charitable giving. Philanthropy derives from the Greek roots philia and anthro. Philia is another Greek word for love (it specifically describes the kind of love that friends have for each other), and anthro means human (anthropology is the study of human cultures, for instance). A philanthropist is thus someone who loves humanity (and shows it by giving away lots of money). A misanthrope, on the other hand, is someone who hates humanity (in Greek, mis- indicates hatred. A misogynist is someone who hates women, for example).

Altruism is, according to the Random House dictionary, the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. It was most likely coined by the nineteenth-century French writer Auguste Comte, who derived it from the Latin word alter, or “other.” Altruism is thus “other-ism” as opposed to egoism, which is “I-ism” (ego is the Latin word for “I”). An altruist is thus a person who puts the needs of others before his own needs, and might even go so far as to sacrifice his own well-being in order to help others. Such heroic deeds could be described as altruistic.

An allegory of Charity, presented as a mother by the painter Anthony van Dyck.

An allegory of Charity, presented as a mother by the painter Anthony van Dyck.

Largesse or largess is the generous bestowal of gifts, and this word was originally a French word that came to English in the late 1100s, and was probably first used in the context of feudal relationships. As you might guess, it has the same root as the word “large:” largus, a Latin word meaning ample or generous. Liberality, while it does contain the word “liberal,” is not an inherently political term. The word liberal derives from the Latin word liber, which means free. Back in the day, the word liberal referred to all sorts of qualities having to do with freedom, including freedom of thought and open-mindedness (as in the liberal arts) and freedom with one’s money, or generosity. Later, over the course of the eighteenth century, it came to be associated with proponents of political reforms and especially democratic government. Since then political liberalism has evolved in a number of different directions and can mean many things today, but, as modern political liberals like to point out, the word still carries many of its older meanings as well.

Munificence is the quality of being munificent, or unusually generous. It derives from the Latin word munificus, which means generous, bountiful, liberal. A generous person can be said to be munificent, and an especially generous gift can be said to be munificent as well.

That wraps up our discussion of avarice and charity for today. Remember, if you want even more help with trick GRE Vocab words, you can study them with me or another GRE expert through Test Masters. Until next time, happy studying!


GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins: Part I – Lust

An early sixteenth century Dutch depiction of the seven deadly sins, by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch.

An early sixteenth century Dutch depiction of the seven deadly sins, by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch.

Back in the day, everyone in Western Europe was Catholic. It should thus be no surprise that Catholic theology has left a profound impact on the English language, and has granted us many excellent, Latin-based GRE vocab words. In this GRE Vocab series, we will discuss words that describe the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues. Some of these words are easy, but others are more unusual, and all of them have synonyms and related words that are frequently tested on the GRE.

In Catholicism, the seven deadly sins are considered to be the root causes or motivations for all sinful actions, and include lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Each sin has a corresponding heavenly virtue that was meant to strengthen the good catholic against the temptations of sin and the consequent risk of eternal damnation. The seven heavenly virtues are humility, charity, kindness, patience, chastity, temperance, and diligence.

The sin of Luxuria was often personified as a beautiful woman, much like the Roman goddess Venus.

The sin of Luxuria was often personified as a beautiful woman, much like the Roman goddess Venus.

You are probably familiar with the meaning of the word lust, which refers to excessive sexual desire. In Latin, the traditional language of the Roman Catholic Church, the word for lust is luxuria, from which our modern word, “luxury,” is derived. The English word “lust” is derived from the German word Lust, which simply means joy, pleasure, delight, or desire, and does not have the same sinful overtones as the English word. A word often used as a synonym of lust was the word lechery. lecherous person was a lustful person – a person given over to unrestrained sexual desires. If someone is lustful, you might also describe his or her behavior as wanton, licentious, libertine, promiscuous, libidinous, prurient, salacious, concupiscent, lewd, or lascivious. 

The word wanton means overindulgent, especially concerning sexual desires or material luxuries. It can also mean heedless or refer to an action done without regard for morality, justice, and all that’s right and good, as in “wanton destruction.” Licentious means sexually unrestrained as well. You might recognize the word “licence” hiding in “licentious.” We all know that a driver’s licence is something that gives you freedom to drive legally, but the word licence can also refer to freedom generally, like “poetic licence,” when poets or writers bend the truth in order to make their stories more compelling. Licence especially refers to an excess of freedom or abuse of freedom. So a licentious person is someone who allows him or herself excessive sexual licence.

The word “libertine” has a meaning derived from similar logic: you probably recognize the word “liberty” in “libertine.” This word has a particular association with the eighteenth century (the 1700s) and the age of the Enlightenment, a time when new ideas about democracy and freedom were circulating throughout Europe even as absolutist monarchies and privileged aristocracies maintained their hold on power. As new ideas about political freedom became more common, there was fear among some that these liberties would lead to an erosion of morality, especially sexual morality (even though aristocrats were the ones who were infamous for their sexual misbehavior).

A portrait of the notorious Casanova.

A portrait of the notorious Casanova.

Eighteenth century figures like the famous seducer Casanova and the twisted Marquis de Sade (we get the words sadism and sadistic from his last name, de Sade – he was turned on by causing women physical pain, and he wrote about it extensively. Masochism is the enjoyment of physical pain itself, hence the modern abbreviation “S&M”), stoked fears that too much political liberty would make everyone turn lustful and lecherous and would be the end of civilization as we know it. A libertine was thus a man who lived a life of unrestrained sexual indulgence, and perhaps also made a practice of seducing otherwise “virtuous” women (back then, a woman’s “virtue” consisted of only one thing: waiting until marriage to have sex and then only having sex with her husband and no one else). Another word for this kind of seducer is rake (the adjective form of the word rake, rakish, actually means debonair, fashionable, jaunty, and charming – just the qualities a successful rake might need)

The word libertine could also be used as an adjective to describe people who behaved like libertines or deeds that a libertine might commit. Perhaps the best example of the eighteenth century libertine is the legendary, fictional character of Don Juan, a Spanish nobleman who uses his aristocratic privileges and good looks to seduce thousands of women, until he is dragged to hell by the ghost of the father of a woman he attempted to rape. The Don Juan legend is famously portrayed in Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni (Giovanni is the Italian version of the Spanish name Juan, both of which are equivalents of the English name John).

The word promiscuous is an adjective that refers to casual and often indiscriminate sexual behavior with a number of partners. The noun form is promiscuity. It derives from the Latin word promiscuus, which literally meant “mixed-up” – you might notice the root misc in promiscuous is shared with the word “miscellaneous,” which means mixed and often uncategorized. Libidinous is derived from word libido, a Latin based word for one’s sex drive. Libidinous is thus a synonym for lustful.

I can post Titian’s famous painting of Diana and Actaeon on this website because it’s great art!

The word prurient is derived from the Latin word prurire, which means “to itch.” Over time it came to mean lustful as well. Prurient is a word that is often used in legal contexts; for instance, legally speaking, what is the difference between a picture of a naked woman in a pornographic magazine and a painting of a naked woman in an art museum? One explanation (which you may or may not agree with) is that the magazine appeals to “the prurient interest” whereas the painting apparently appeals to a more innocent appreciation of beauty. The phrase “prurient interest” is often used when there is suspicion that someone may be getting some kind of perverted pleasure out of something when they’re not supposed to. For example, some people might argue that the tortures beautiful women often go through in gory modern horror films might appeal to the sadistic prurient interest of some viewers.

A scarlet woman corrupts passers-by with her tentacles of sin in this Victorian public service announcement.

A scarlet woman corrupts passers-by with her tentacles of sin in this Victorian public service announcement.

Salacious is another synonym for lustful that derives from the Latin word salax, which in turn derives from the Latin verb salire, which, according to dictionary.com, can mean “to jump, move spasmodically, spurt.” No explanation needed there, methinks. The word concupiscent also means lustful; it derives from the Latin con- (with) cupere (desire). Lewd also means lustful or obscene, and it does not derive from a Latin word. It is a very old English word that originally meant common, uneducated, peasant-like. I suppose over time the assumption was that the lower classes had crude tastes, although as we have seen the aristocrats were just as guilty (if not more so). Lascivious is yet another synonym derived from the Latin lascivia, or playfulness.

The virtue meant to combat all this lust was, of course, chastity, or the quality of being chaste, pure, sexually restrained (from the Latin castus). Immaculate, intemerate, inviolate, celibate, and continent are all words related to the virtue of chastity. Immaculate comes from the latin word immaculatus, which breaks down into the prefix im- (meaning not) and the root macula (meaning blemish). The word immaculate thus means spotless, unblemished, perfect, and pure. In Catholicism, the Blessed Virgin Mary is often called the Immaculata, or “the immaculate one,” because she is believed to have been free of original sin from the moment she was concieved in her mother’s womb (this is known as the doctrine of the immaculate conception – as to what all that means, that’s another article). Because of the word’s association with Mary, it also has a strong connotation of sexual purity as well, although you can also use it to describe anything that is pure, spotless, clean, or perfect – like a neat freak’s living room.

Intemerate and inviolate have similar derivations and meanings. Intemerate derives from the latin in- (not) and temerare (to darken, violate), and inviolate derives from the latin in- (not) and violatus (hurt). Both mean not violated or not hurt, but more specifically they mean not raped or not defiled – pure, especially sexually. Celibacy is the quality of completely abstaining from all sexual activity. A person who practices celibacy is celibate or is a celibate (celibate can be either a noun or an adjective). It comes from the latin word caelebs, meaning “unmarried.” In the Catholic church, all priests, monks, and nuns take vows of celibacy, renouncing all sexual acts and relationships. Continent comes from the latin verb continere, meaning “to contain.” It refers to sexual restraint or self-control: the ability to “contain” one’s desires. In modern medical terminology, however, continence is the ability to control when one urinates or defecates – if a patient is incontinent, he or she may need an adult diaper.

Those are all the GRE words having to do with lust and chastity that I can think of for now. If you want extra help with GRE vocab from me or another GRE expert, remember that you can always contact Test Masters and get the best prep available. Next time, we discuss another deadly sin: avarice. Until then, avoid temptation, and keep studying!

By Calvin Dotsey

Sometimes it is Greek: Conflagration

A photograph of a California wildfire, taken by an employee of the US Bureau of Land Management (2009).

A photograph of a California wildfire, taken by an employee of the US Bureau of Land Management (2009).

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: Conflagration

A conflagration is a large, destructive fire. Conflagration is descended directly from the Latin conflagrationem, a combination of the intensive prefix com- + flargrare, which translates as “to burn.”

Intensive prefixes are used to indicate a stronger or more forceful action relative to the stem word; in this case, a conflagration is not just a fire but a BIG, destructive, and extensive fire. A fire that decimates dozens or hundreds of acres, for example, could be called a conflagration.

Sample Sentence:

California’s catastrophic conflagrations caused calamitous chaos.

Miss last week’s “Sometimes it is Greek?” Check it out here! Want more GRE vocabulary? Click here for the free Test Masters GRE vocabulary list with over 2,000 words!


Sometimes it is Greek: Vituperation

La Censure (Censorship) as portrayed by Léon Bienvenu (1835-1911).

To an artist, there is no higher form of censure or censorship that the callous destruction of one’s art.

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: Vituperation

Vituperation is a sustained and bitter railing and condemnation; it is also defined as a venomous censure. Etymological records date vituperation back to the mid-15th century, though indications are that it was rarely used before the early 19th century. Vituperation is a derivative of the Latin vituperationem, which roughly translates to “blame or censuring.”

Vtuperation can be defined as censure, but it is more commonly associated with the acts of reviling, vilifying, and addressing with harsh language.

Ashley Montagu (1905-1999), a famous anthropologist and humanist, was very familiar with the concept of vituperation. Born in East London, Ashley was often the subject of antisemitic taunts as a child; even later in his life, as a professor and academic, Montagu was subject to both social and professional censure. In Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: the Fallacy of Race (1942), Montagu questioned  the validity of race as a biological concept. His theories were met with fiery vituperation by the McCarthyism-oriented culture of the early-to-mid 1950s, and Montagu was fired from his professorship at Rutgers University in 1955.

Montagu’s story was one of eventual success and social redemption (he was frequently a guest of “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and won several Humanity awards for his work), but it is easy to understand why a man with a life like his would have a strong opinion on the topic of parochial condemnation and censorship.

Montagu makes a very interesting distinction between a vituperative act, like swearing, and the more personal malison of a curse; “The indications are that swearing preceded the development of cursing. That is, expletives, maledictions, exclamations, and imprecations of the immediately explosive or vituperative kind preceded the speechmaking and later rituals involved in the deliberate apportioning of the fate of an enemy. Swearing of the former variety is from the lips only, but the latter is from the heart. Damn it! is not the same as Damn you!”

Though Montagu seems to insist in this quote that vituperation lacks the personalization characteristic of a curse, that is a broadly academic and specifically etymological perspective to take. Though there may be a noteworthy contrast between a vituperation and a curse, if you see the word on the GRE you should treat them synonymously.

Sample Sentence:

Vanessa’s vicious vituperation vilipended Vlad’s vain venerable veneer.

Miss last week’s “Sometimes it is Greek?” Check it out here! Want more GRE vocabulary? Click here for the free Test Masters GRE vocabulary list with over 2,000 words!