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: Didactic
Didactic is derived from the Greek didaktikos, which means skillful in teaching. Didactic means designed or intended to teach; though didactic can refer to general instruction and teaching, it is often used to specifically reference instruction that is moral in nature.
A word like didactic is interesting because of its dual connotations. Didactic can be used to reference or describe someone who is inclined towards instruction, specifically moral instruction. Didactic can also be used sardonically to reference someone who is inclined towards excessive moral instruction. In the context of a standardized exam like the GRE, this can be a very important distinction; rely on narrative tone and what you can infer from the passage to help you decide whether didactic is being adjectivally used seriously or sarcastically.
When used as a noun, didactic becomes didact. Though didact’s definition is somewhat pedestrian, “a person who is didactic,” some of its applications are very interesting; perhaps the most interesting form of didacticism is autodidacticism. Autodidacts adopt a genuine philosophy of learning that is founded on self-teaching. History’s most famous autodidact is Leonardo da Vinci. Born in the mid-15th century, da Vinci is best known as a painter, but he was also an inventor, scientist, and mathematician.
Among the conceptualizations he is credited with are the helicopter, tank, and calculator; he is also recognized for advancing theories on solar power and plate tectonics. Da Vinci’s work continues to permeate global culture today, and there is no doubt he was and remains the world’s most accomplished autodidactic.