GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins: Part III – Gluttony

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

Last time in this delightfully decadent series, we discussed potential GRE words that have to do with avarice and charity. Today, we turn to another sin/virtue combination: gluttony and temperance. In Catholicism, gluttony is the sin of overindulgence in anything, but especially in the consumption of food. St. Thomas Aquinas listed six ways of committing the sin of gluttony with regard to eating: eating too much, eating too eagerly, eating too expensively, eating too daintily, eating too wildly (without manners), and eating too soon. The sin of eating too much is also considered to be particularly bad because there are many people in the world who do not have enough to eat, and the extra food you eat could have gone to feed a starving person. The word gluttony came to English from Latin by way of French, and can be traced to the Latin verb glutire, which simply means “to gulp down.” A person guilty of the sin of gluttony is called a glutton.

There are many excellent GRE words relating to the sin of gluttony, including crapulence, edacity, esurience, gulosity, guttle, ravenousness, and voraciousness. Contrary to what you might assume, the word crapulence, or the state of being crapulent, actually has nothing to do with fecal material. In fact, it derives from the Latin word crapula, which is in turn derived from the Greek word kraipale, which refers to drunkenness or even a hangover. Today, in English, crapulent means sick from too much drinking or eating. It can thus still mean hungover (even after these millennia), or it can refer to the pain you might have felt on Halloween when, as a child, you ate too much candy all at once.

“A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion” by James Gillray depicts the infamously gluttonous King George IV of England. A portrait of crapulence if there ever was one.

The word edacity, or the state of being edacious, refers to one’s appetite, especially when one is very hungry. It entered the English language in the 1620s (probably at the hand of some long forgotten Latin scholar), and is derived from the Latin edacitas, which means gluttony (the stem ed- means “eat,” just as something edible is something eatable). Esurience, or the quality of being esurient, also entered English in the seventeenth century, and it means hungry or greedy. It comes from the Latin verb esurire, which means “to hunger.”

Gulosity is another synonym of gluttony with overtones of greediness. It came to English in the 1490s from the Latin word gula, which means throat (the English word “gullet” is also derived from the Latin word gula, but it sounds less latinate because it entered English by way of French in the late fifteenth century, and thus had a more organic evolution). To guttle, on the other hand, has nothing to do with Latin; this English verb is derived from the word “gut,” which is a very old English word. It simply means to eat greedily, as you might have guessed.

Albert Anker’s 1896 still life, “Excess.”

The word ravenousness refers to the quality of being ravenous, which is in turn derived from the verb to raven (which has no etymological relationship with the bird immortalized by Edgar Allen Poe). To raven means to eat greedily, and ravenous means extremely hungry. The participial form of the verb, ravening, also means voracious or rapacious. The word raven came to English in the 1480s or 90s from the French raviner, which in turn evolved from the Latin rapina, which is also the root of another word that came up during our discussion of avarice: rapacious. Rapina means to plunder or snatch, including sexually – the word “rape” is another of its linguistic descendants.

The word voracious literally means craving or consuming large quantities of food, but it can also mean especially eager, avid, or insatiable in a more metaphorical sense, as in “a voracious reader.” It first appeared in English in the 1620s-30s, as and adjective form of the noun form voracity (which just means voraciousness), which came to English in 1526 from the French voracité, which in turn came from the Latin vorax, which means swallowing greedily.

Once thought to be by Rembrandt, this painting offers us the image of an old widow clipping her fingernails with a pair of scissors as a model of ascetic virtue.

There are also a few good GRE words that have to do with the heavenly virtue meant to combat gluttony: temperance, or habitual moderation and self restraint in the indulgence of a natural appetite or passion. This word has been in English since the kings and queens of England spoke Anglo-French (in the early 1200s it was spelled temperaunce). It derived from the Latin temperantia, which means self-control. While for most of its history this word simply referred to moderation, in late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century America it came to refer to the movement in favor of banning alcohol entirely. No doubt its association with heavenly virtue made it an appealing rallying cry for those who wanted portray the temperance movement as a moral crusade.

Two other words that have to do with temperance are abstemiousness and asceticism. Abstemiousness, or the quality of being abstemious, refers to the quality of being sparing or moderate in eating and drinking. It came to English between 1615-1625 straight from the Latin abstemius, which is formed by combining the Latin prefix abs-, meaning away from, with the word temetum, which means “intoxicating drink.” Asceticism refers to the religious doctrine (found in many of the world’s religions, not only Catholicism) that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like, although it can refer to non-spiritual forms of voluntary self-denial in a broader sense as well. A person who practices asceticism is called an ascetic, and self-denying behaviors or attitudes can be described as ascetic as well. The word ascetic comes from the ancient Greek word asketikos, meaning subject to strenuous exercise or training. It first entered English in the 1640s.

In the spirit of moderation, I think I’ll leave it at that for today. Next time, we discuss wrath and patience. And remember, if you want extra help learning all these GRE words, you can study them with experts like me at Test Masters. Until then, keep studying!

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