GRE Word Roots and Etymology
Let’s face it: Studying GRE vocabulary may not seem like the most exciting thing on your to-do list. You know you have to build up your vocabulary to ace the GRE verbal section, but the process of doing so just seems… unstimulating. The fact of the matter is that if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then you won’t retain nearly as much information. The key to not just learning, but actually remembering, the words on your GRE vocab list is to find out what makes certain words interesting. Many English words have evolved into their current form over the course of hundreds or even thousands of years, and have rich histories that you might not expect them to. I spent a good part of my college career studying Arabic, and I was constantly amazed at how many English words have connections to this 1500 year-old language. Here are just a few examples of words that have direct or indirect Arabic roots:
- Admiral: The phrase “emir al-bihar”, or “commander of the seas”, was a term used by Arabs in Sicily beginning around 900 AD, and was successively added into the Normans, Genoese, French, and finally English lexicons.
- Adobe: The Arabic word “atoba”, itself borrowed from a Coptic word, was loaned into Spanish in the 13th century and was introduced into English by way of Mexico in the late 1700s.
- Carat: A medieval Arabic word, “qirat”, was used to describe a small fraction of the weight of a gold dinar coin. This word goes back even further, to an ancient Greek word that also refers to a very small weight. It was incorporated into Latin in the 1500s as a measurement of the percentage of gold in an alloy.
- Ghoul: This word traces its roots all the way back to the 9th century, and comes from the classic story collection One Thousand and One Nights. It didn’t appear in English writing until the late 1700s, though.
Now, no one is saying that you need to memorize the etymology of every word that you come across while studying for the GRE – that would be far from practical. But take the time to explore the origins of a few words that interest you, and let that curiosity carry over to your GRE vocab lists. Look for connections among or commonalities between the words that you’re studying – you’ll soon see how much easier it is to retain all of the additions to your vocabulary, and help you stay sharp until Test Day.
Do you have a favorite word with an interesting etymology? Let us know in the comments!