Tag Archive for 'word of the week'

Sometimes it is GREek: Solipsism

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.

dostojevski

“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!

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!

 

Sometimes it is Greek: Acculturation

Ray-bans in the Rainforest.

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: Acculturation

Acculturation is the process by which individuals and societies are impacted by culture. This includes children, who from the moment of birth onward are instilled with the cultural values of their particular society and group, as well as cultures and societies in a larger sense, who interact and influence one another globally, regionally, and locally.

Etymologically, acculturation is a combination of the Latin prefix ad, “to, or toward” + culture + the English noun ending -tion, which often means “process.”

Interestingly, acculturation is a prominent academic term in the fields of sociology, linguistics, and anthropology, among others. Though often construed in a negative context, acculturation does not necessarily mean the sublimation of one cultural group to another; the Fourfold model, for example, provides four distinct types of acculturation:

1. Assimilation: when individuals reject their minority identity in favor of the cultural norms and mores of the dominant culture.

2. Separation: when individuals reject the culture of the dominant group in favor of preserving their culture of origin.

3. Integration: when individuals are able to adopt the cultural standards of the dominant group while maintaining their culture of origin.

4. Marginalization: when individuals reject both their culture of origin as well the culture of the dominant group.

Sample Sentence:

Amy thinks acculturation is abhorrent, but Amy also advocates adopting American attitudes; antithetical academics all call Amy “the addled activist.”

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!

Somtimes it is Greek: Umbrage

The character Professor Dolores Umbridge can be better understood if you understand the wordplay behind her name.

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: Umbrage

The word umbrage is derived from the Latin umbra, which means shadow. Today, umbrage is a feeling of resentment or pique. Umbrage is often the result of a misunderstood or misinterpreted interaction, a real or imagined slight.

As its Latin root might suggest, umbrage can also refer to a shadow or shady foliage; umbrage can also mean a vague or indistinct suggestion, and a reason for doubt. Though it might be useful to be aware of these more traditional definitions, umbrage is rarely used in these particular contexts today.

Umbrage is often used idiomatically, as in “to take umbrage with something,” and this particular verbiage has led to a veritable lineage of war-time anecdotes. In 1990, “American Literary Anecdotes” printed the most recent version, though one source indicates the joke goes as far back as 1782:

There is a story about the editor of a small newspaper who quickly read a wire service story during World War II stating that the Russians had taken umbrage at something, as they often did. Not knowing what the phrase meant, he headlined the story: “Russians Capture Umbrage.”

Sample Sentence:

Uma took umbrage with Umar’s unapologetic appraisal of Uma’s attire.

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: Rapport

For example, a long-married couple usually has an established rapport.

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: Rapport

Rapport (pronounced: ra-pawr, -pohr, OR ruh-) is a harmonious connection or sympathetic relation; to have a rapport with someone is to have a connection or relation with that person, especially in the sense that one has or shares a sense of camaraderie with another. It is the feeling one develops through shared experiences or friendship, but does not necessarily require time to develop; you can develop an instant rapport with someone.

Etymologically, rapport is a derivative of the French verb rapporter, which means to bring back or report. The French rapporter is itself a derivative of the Latin apportāre, which has a similar meaning: to carry.

Rapport’s French pronunciation gives it an exotic flair that many essay graders may find alluring. Rapport’s foreign pronunciation also means that though many people may be familiar with it as a spoken word, many will also be unfamiliar with it when presented in writing; this makes it an excellent choice for test-makers to try and trick test-takers.

Sample Sentence:

Rebecca reestablished rapport with recalcitrant relatives.

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: Vicissitude

William Wordsworth famously defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.”

In this post “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: Vicissitude

Life is full of vicissitudes, those unexpected challenges which arise during the course of a day. They are changes or unexpected deviations from normalcy. More often than not a vicissitude is associated with a hardship, but it may also refer to a beneficial happenstance; the chief characteristic of a vicissitude is that it is unintentional and simply a result of chance.

Vicissitude finds its etymological origins in the Latin word vicissitudo, which means “change.”

Vicissitude may also generally refer, not to specific troubles resulting from chance, but to the natural mutability that is characteristic of life and man. Coupled with its pleasant cadence and reference to unexpected hardships, this transcendental understanding of vicissitude makes it a favorite subject for writers and poets.

William Wordsworth’s publication Miscellaneous Sonnets includes a sonnet, titled “Surprised by Joy – impatient as the Wind,” with a quintuple introduction featuring an excellent reference to this week’s vocabulary word:

Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind

I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom

But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,

That spot which no vicissitude can find?

                                         Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind —

Sample Sentence:

Valiantly, Virginia vied to vanquish life’s vacuous vagaries and vicious vicissitudes.

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!

 

Sometimes it is Greek: Polysemous

Many people would argue abstract art is polysemous because it is open to multiple interpretations.

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: Polysemous

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the variances of language or the myriad potential interpretations of a single word or sentence? Has a precise definition or explanation eluded you because of an intentionally opaque phrase or passage? Polysemous is an excellent descriptor when confronted with vague or abstract material.

Polysemous is the characterization of something as having many possible meanings; its etymological origins come from the Greek roots poly-, which means many, and sêma, which means signs.

Linguistically, a polysemous relationship is one in which a single word or phrase can be understood to have multiple meanings. Consider this example, “In my hands rests the only antidote ever developed, and the fate of the world.” In this example, the verb ‘rests’ refers not only to the antidote but also to the fate of the world, one resting physically and the other metaphorically, and is therefore polysemous.

More generally, polysemous may simply refer to a passage or word that is open to multiple explications; it is also a word that will surely wow any grader when used in the appropriate context. For example, when presented with a complicated or convoluted passage, one might argue the author has a polysemous relationship with his work or that the work itself is polysemous.

Sample Sentence:

Peter’s polysemous prose perplexed postmodernists with its potency.

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!