GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins: Part VI – Envy

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

In this, our latest post in the series GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins, we turn to the sin of envy and its corresponding heavenly virtue, kindness. According to Catholic theology, the sin of envy is defined as ill will for those whom one believes are better off than oneself. The Latin word the church uses for envy is invidia, which evolved into the Old French envie before entering English as “envy” in the late 1200s. There are a few good potential GRE vocab words related to envy that are worth mentioning, including invidious, covetous, begrudge, and jealousy.

Invidious, as you may have guessed, is derived from the Latin invidia. The reason it bears a greater similarity to its root than the word “envy” does is because it entered English straight from Latin in the first decade of the 1600s. While it originally simply meant envious, over time its meaning changed to causing or tending to cause not only envy, but also general animosity or resentment. For example: “The twins grew upset when their teacher invidiously compared their academic abilities.” In other words, they got mad when the teacher said one was smarter than the other, a comparison that would cause envy or ill will.

Moses with the Ten Commandments, as imagined by Gustav Doré.

The word covetous, the adjective form of the verb to covet, on the other hand, has perhaps an even stronger meaning than envy: not only does one feel ill will toward someone whom one believes is better off than oneself, but one also wishes to possess that which is the cause of said envy. For instance, if you covet your neighbor’s house, you don’t just want a house just as nice, you literally want your neighbor’s house for yourself. This word came to English in the late twelfth/early thirteenth centuries from the Old French coviet, which in turn was derived from the Latin word cupiditas, which you may remember from an earlier post on Avarice. In English, the word “to covet” has a very biblical connotation, because it was used in the King James Bible to translate the last of the Ten Commandments,”Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Genesis 20:17).

To begrudge someone something is to to envy or resent someone’s pleasure or good fortune, but it can also mean to be reluctant to give, grant, or allow someone something good, especially when that person really does deserve it. It is derived from the Middle English bigrucchen, which, despite its Germanic sound, is, like the word grudge itself, actually derived from the Old French groucher, which meant to grumble and probably had an onomatopoetic origin (groucher is also the root of the word “grouch”).

Much is often made of the distinction between envy and jealousy, but it seems that everyone defines these terms slightly differently., for instance, explains it this way:

“Envy and jealousy are very close in meaning. Envy denotes a longing to possess something awarded to or achieved by another: to feel envy when a friend inherits a fortune. Jealousy, on the other hand, denotes a feeling of resentment that another has gained something that one more rightfully deserves: to feel jealousy when a coworker receives a promotion. Jealousy also refers to anguish caused by fear of unfaithfulness.”, on the other hand, says this:

“Jealousy is reflective of a person’s feelings or attitudes toward another person, whereas envy expresses a person’s feelings or attitudes toward another person’s advantages or accomplishments; jealousy pertains to emotional rivalry while envy is resentment of a more fortunate person.”

Other dictionaries say they are synonyms. Regardless of how you use it, it came to English in the early 1200s from the French jaloux, which came from the Latin zelosus, which came from the Ancient Greek zelos, which could mean jealousy, but had a much more positive connotation. Zelos was something that inspired emulation or imitation, not hatred. It is also the root of the English word “zeal.”

The story of Snow White is set in motion by the queen’s envy of Snow White’s beauty. Here Snow White falls into a death-like sleep as the queen flees the scene.

Kindness is the heavenly virtue meant to combat envy. Although kindness is a rather generic English word for general niceness, the Latin term the Catholic Church uses for this virtue, humanitas, has more interesting connotations. As you might guess, it has to do with humanity or the qualities of that characterize humans. Originally, this word had very strong positive connotations: humans were characterized by civilization, civility, refinement, compassion, and kindness. Today, the word humanity can still mean this, but in the nineteenth century it began to take on the meaning of “the entire population of human beings,” as in “the asteroid hurtling toward Earth threatens to destroy all of humanity.” Later still, it came to also have negative connotations, depending on context. For instance, if a biography fully “explores the humanity” of its subject, that usually means they are going to show the person in question with all of his or her flaws. After all, humans are characterized just as much by their imperfections as they are by their compassion. The adjective humane, however, retains the original positive connotations of humanity exclusively. When someone talks about “humane treatment of prisoners of war,” for instance, they mean that prisoners of war should be treated well.

Other words that have to do with the virtue of kindness might include amiable, amicable, cordial, and congenial. The words amiable and amicable both derive from the Latin word amicus, which means “friend,” and is related to the verb amare, which means “to love.” If you have studied any romance languages, you will probably recognize that amigo, ami, and amico (Spanish, French, and Italian for friend, respectively) all derive from the same root, as do amor, amour, and amore (Spanish, French, and Italian for love, respectively). While we’re on the subject, note that these languages (and also Portuguese and Romanian) are called romance languages because they are descendants of the Roman language, Latin, (originally, romance/romantic meant having to do with Rome) not because they are seductive sounding (although many people do find them alluring).

Anyway, although amiable and amicable both mean friendly, amiable tends to describe people (i.e. – he made a very amiable impression at the party, she seems like a very amiable person, etc.) while amicable tends to describe situations or relationships, especially situations that normally would not be friendly, as in “an amicable divorce” or “we settled our differences amicably.” Part of the reason these two words are distinct is that they entered English at different times; amiable in the early 1300s and amicable in the mid-1400s.

Antique bottles that may have contained cordials.

Antique bottles that may have contained cordials.

The word cordial, as an adjective, means courteous and gracious, friendly, or warm; as a noun, however, it refers to various types of liqueurs. Maybe that’s because alcohol makes people friendlier, you guess? In fact, it’s slightly more complicated than that. The word cordial actually derives from the Latin word for the heart, cor. Originally the word meant “of or for the heart,” as in medicine, food, or drink meant to stimulate the heart. While it entered English with this meaning in the late 1300s, within the next hundred years it began to take on the more poetic meaning of “heartfelt” or “from the heart.” This train of thought lead it to its current meaning, “friendly.” One place you sometimes see this word is as a letter closing: “Cordially yours, Calvin.” The other meaning also persisted for a time though, and came to be associated with liqueurs that were believed to have medicinal value as stimulants for the heart. In the twentieth century, these medical notions were debunked, but the drinks kept the name.

The official movie poster.

The official movie poster.

Congenial means agreeable, suitable, or pleasing in nature or character, although it can also mean compatible. When it originally entered English in the 1620s, it meant “kindred,” since it was derived from the Latin roots con- (meaning “with” or “together”) and genialis (of or relating to birth). Thus, those who were related by birth were kindred. It first began to mean generally agreeable or friendly around 1711. The quality of being congenial is congenialtity, which you may recognize from the 2000 police comedy film Miss Congeniality.

That’s enough for today. Next time, we conclude this series with the last and perhaps deadliest sin, pride. Remember, if you want extra help getting ready for the GRE, you can study with experts like me through Test Masters. Until next time, happy studying!



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