Manhattan Prep GRE Blog

Vocab at the Movies: Atonement

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AtonementThe 2007 film Atonement, starring Keira Knightley, is the doleful story of a woman attempting to right a wrong she committed as a thirteen year old in 1935 — a wrong that ruins the lives of her older sister and her lover.

Atonement means “satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.”

A person who atones for a wrong is contrite.

You could also say that a person who does penance or makes recompense for his wrongs is redeemed, or that he is absolved of his peccancy.

A person who does penance could also be said to be penitent (antonym: impenitent). The word penitent comes from the Latin word for punishment, which also gives us penal and penitentiary. Also relatedly, if you did something in a non-punishing way, you could describe it with a very interesting adverb:

While it’s true she was still angry at him, she wanted to emphasize that she canceled his plane ticket only for financial reasons — that is, she did it wholly unpenally.

Brand Name Vocab: Battle of the Shampoos

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As the jingle goes: “Sometimes you need a little Finesse … sometimes you need a lot.”

Can this shampoo give you 1) extreme delicacy in actions or tastes?
2) skill in handling a difficult or highly sensitive situation?
3) a trick, artifice, or stratagem?

While a nattily-dressed person could be said to have a pert outfit, one’s parents might very well say something like “Don’t be pert with me, young lady!” That is, pert has a few different meanings.

Can this shampoo make you impertinent?
Chic? Lively?

Now, if only someone made a shampoo called Omniscient or Pecunious.

Imago, Mnemonic, Sinistral: More Vocab in Harry Potter

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Here’s a rundown of several more characters from the Harry Potter series — while many of these characters didn’t make it from the books to the films, their names are nevertheless replete with lexical references!

harry potterThe Gaunt family (Marvolo, Merope, and Morfin) bears a surname meaning “thin, bony, grim.”

Inigo Imago (“author of The Dream Oracle“) has a surname with two interesting meanings: an imago is either an adult insect, or an “idealized version of a loved one” (if you’re an adult still thinking of your mother the way you did when you were two — well, that’s pretty weird, and that’s an imago).

Mnemone Radford (who “developed memory modifying charms”) quite appropriately has a first name derived from mnemonic.

An employee at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes has the name Verity (what a trustworthy person to have working in your shop!)

Hogwarts Professor of Astronomy Aurora Sinistra might sound a bit dangerous: she has a last name deriving from the same root as sinistral and sinister. Both of these words simply come from the root for “left” (as opposed to right), but sadly, in virtually all cultures, left-handed people have been regarded with some derision and suspicion, and the word “sinister” now means “evil.”

Vocab at the Movies: Inception

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inceptionInception is a “new film by The Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan, this one taking on a sci-fi psychological spin for the serious-minded action auteur, with Leonardo DiCaprio spearheading the cast.”

The word inception simply means beginning.

In British English, an “inception” is a graduation ceremony, which seems weird — using “beginning” for “graduation” — until you realize that that’s exactly what Americans do with the word “commencement.”

Choose your own answer to this GRE Antonyms question before clicking “more”:

INCEPTION:
A. denouement
B. consummation
C. deposition
D. disjunction
E. proscription

Read more

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Three-Letter Words: Fey

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definitionSome of the most perplexing words on the GRE are diminutive. Who doesn’t see PAN : REVIEW and metaphorically scratch his or her head, or wonder what, exactly, a nib or a gin is on its own? Welcome to Three-Letter Words. A few of them might make you want to deploy some four-letter words.

Fey? Like Tina Fey? Perhaps Tina Fey is descended from fairies, since the word fey means, weirdly:

  • like a fairy or elf; otherworldly, supernatural
  • doomed to die, or full of the sense of impending death
  • appearing touched or crazy
  • acting an an affected way (like a modern person who thinks she’s a fairy)

Wow, that’s a lot of meanings. Let’s try some!

After seven days in the forest with only dewdrops to drink, he began seeing elves, trolls, and tiny, sparkly, fey creatures with itty-bitty flapping wings.

The fey old woman said, her hand shaking: “I don’t have much time left! You must turn off the cat and appraise cloud eleven!” Whoa.

The pop star — who until 2008 had been an unassuming college music major — all of the sudden adopted a fey demeanor, speaking in an unplaceable accent and displaying a disturbed but very artistic-looking twitch.

Try a sample Antonyms problem:

FEY :
A. adamant
B. ruddy
C. thaumaturgical
D. hale
E. meretricious

Choose your own answer, then click “more for the solution.

Read more

Visual Dictionary: Incendiary

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Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Interestingly, just as “percent” means “per 100,” there’s a word for “per one thousand”: permille (also spelled permil, per mille, etc.) There’s even a symbol for it: °. So you could say that, in some cases, a word is 1° of a picture. Welcome to Visual Dictionary, a series of posts about words that are better expressed in pictures.

Incendiary.

Also incendiary.

An incendiary (such as dynamite) can literally set things on fire, or an incendiary (such the rebels of the Boston Tea Party, or Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense) can incite people towards strife or revolution. The word can be an adjective or a noun. As a noun, it can be an object or a person.

Consider this Antonyms problem…

INCENDIARY:
A. mallet
B. peeler
C. extinguisher
D. conflagration
E. tenderizer

…and this one.

INCENDIARY:
A. lukewarm
B. inflammatory
C. fractious
D. diluted
E. conciliatory

Look, one more!

INCENDIARY:
A. ascetic
B. pacifier
C. revolutionary
D. legate
E. stoic

Read more

Vocab in the Movies: Avatar

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avatarWhen the film Avatar came out, many online dictionaries reported that avatar was one of the most frequently looked up words for the month.

In Hinduism, an avatar is an incarnation of a god. On the internet, an avatar is a small image a user chooses to represent him or herself. In regular speech, however, an avatar is “an embodiment or personification, as of a principle, attitude, or view of life.” As in, “Having traveled the world with a backpack, I consider Dora the Explorer the avatar of my peripatetic lifestyle.”

Other words you can use in a similar way include apotheosis, archetype, epitome, exemplar, and quintessence.

For instance:

The coq au vin is the epitome of French cuisine.

Torture is the quintessence of evil.

Jason Statham is an exemplar of action heroes.

Her role in the play wasn’t well-developed; the character was simply an earth-mother archetype who served as a foil to the crafty — and more modernized — leading role.

Avatar is one of those words everyone thinks he knows — until you ask him for a definition. You are now one of the few people who knows how to use the word when you’re not on Pandora!

J. K. Sesquipedalian: Vocab in Harry Potter

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J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, knows a profusion of Latin. When the first book came out in 1997, I noticed that villain Draco Malfoy‘s name was no accident. Sounds pretty evil, right?

dracoIf that name sounded nefarious but you weren’t sure why, it was probably because “mal” literally means “bad” in Latin: malnutrition, malady, malevolent, maleficent, malediction.

But “Draco” is even more interesting. The first Draco was a legislator in Athens in the 7th century B.C. His legal code forced people into slavery for their debts and specified the death penalty for even minor offenses; this barbarous code has given us the English word draconian, which means unusually harsh or cruel, especially in relation to laws and government.

There are plenty of other Harry Potter names related to GRE vocabulary words. The heroine of the series, Hermione Granger, is “Muggle-born” (that is, born to non-magical parents) — and, appropriately, a “granger” is a farmer. (Interestingly, many words about farming, such as provincial and yeoman, have come to take on the meaning or connotation of “ordinary”).

Of course, some of the names in the Harry Potter series, such as “Andreyius Snicklepitch,” are just meant to be ridiculous.

Welcome to the Manhattan GRE blog!

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Welcome to the Manhattan GRE blog!  We hope you’ll come back daily, making us your diurnal (or perhaps preprandial, or postprandial, or matutinal) lexical stopover!

Since vocabulary is the pith, the crux, the marrow, the essentia of the GRE verbal section, every day we’ll post a GRE word, or several words clustered around a theme, in a way that relates to current events, pop culture, or the other aspects of the world around us.

Some experts say that you need to hear, read, or use a word 7 times to really know it. Other experts give different numbers, but the crux is: the more you interact with a word, and the more different ways in which you interact with that word, the better. Therefore, we’ll use a variety of media for greater mnemonic efficacy!

Are you ready to exigently augment your vocabulary? Let us commence!