As we continue our study of GRE vocabulary by learning words via cinematic context, let’s further mine the abundant vocabulary vein found in the Coen Bros. films by examining O Brother, Where Art Thou. Perhaps their most peculiarly-written dialogue (which is really saying something given their variety of off-kilter perspectives), O Brother, Where Art Thou is a period-piece comedy set in the rural South during the Great Depression and is based loosely on Homer’s Odyssey.
Although all of the characters are given the opportunity to voice obscure expressions and dialect-heavy lines, George Clooney’s role as Everett McGill is awarded the greatest privilege to riff rich remarks that contain a copious amount of exalted words and phrases. In fact, viewers must wade carefully through the swirling debris of jargon so as to discern the distinction between actual words and those contrived by the writer’s use of dripping dialect. To be frank, although I had seen the film several times prior to creating this blog post, my dictionary was getting heavy play in researching the particulars of the script versus the pronunciation of the words as heard in the movie: Lots of “What did he say?”, “That’s not what he said”, and “Wow – that’s actually a recognized word!” could be heard coming from my media room that day.
Again, however much you might enjoy the movie, remember to use the film as yet another avenue of GRE vocabulary acquisition. Now more than ever, the GRE is testing your ability to recognize the meanings of words as they are used in context. Whether it is via framing questions asking you about the use of given highlighted words in the Reading Comprehension passages or via Sentence Equivalence questions that ask you to determine which choice of two different words would arrive at the same meaning within a given sentence, the GRE test-makers are all about context.
As directed in my last post, please watch the film and listen closely. While I have given you the links to the words’ accepted definitions (in the order of appearance), nothing beats hearing them used by the characters in the film and, as the dialogue is fairly abstruse (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/abstruse), your attention is required – and will be rewarded!
metallurgic - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Metallurgic
fraught - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Fraught
Pregnant (alternate def.) - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pregnant
vouchsafe - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/vouchsafe
impediment - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Impediment
coiffure - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Coiffure
transgression - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Transgression
bifurcated - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bifurcated
ordnance - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ordnance
rusticate - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/rusticate
peckish - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/peckish
gustation - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/gustation
sentient - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sentient
cronyism - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/cronyism
nepotism - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/nepotism
admonish - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/admonish
paterfamilias - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/paterfamilias
progeny - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/progeny
succubus - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/succubus
precept - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/precept
constituency - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/constituency
trussed (as transitive verb) - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/trussed
blandishments - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/blandishments
miscegenation - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/miscegenation
rectitude - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/rectitude
miscreants - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/miscreants
venerated - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/venerated
remanded - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/remanded
refugium - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/refugium
foreordained - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/foreordained
Enjoy, and let me know how your GRE vocabulary has improved after taking on this fun AND productive study break!
So you want to expand your vocabulary in preparation for the GRE Verbal section. You may have even done a few sessions of flash card review – that was fun, wasn’t it?
As I have asserted in a past blog entry, there are other, less-traditional but more “inspired” avenues to increase one’s GRE word awareness. In my next few posts, I will help you throw back a few handfuls of lofty GRE words while providing you with an example of their context as found within the scripts of lauded movie-makers, The Coen Brothers. As many of you are probably aware, The Coen Bros. delight in writing rich, eccentric dialogue; their movies seem to traffic in word choices that juxtapose with the characters that utter such vernacular – often resulting in good times for all!
The first film offering us just such an enjoyable word horde platform: Raising Arizona
The comedy tells a tale of baby-theft as recounted by a semi-thoughtful jailbird (Nicholas Cage). The dialogue is as ridiculous as it is heady and it contains, as promised, many words you might not expect to hear from these characters. Although I have given you a link to the accepted definition of these words that are well worth your acquisition, I fully expect you to watch the movie so that you may enjoy their cinematic context while taking in a hilarious film in the process. Learning words in context is one of the best ways to absorb new vocab for the GRE.
Yes, you will be tested on these – or at least words quite similar – on the GRE. Just check ‘em off and look ‘em up as they come your way:
Camaraderie – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/camaraderie
Rambunctious – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/rambunctious
Incarceration – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/incarceration
Recidivism – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/recidivism
Premonish – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Premonish
Recognizance – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/recognizance
Domicile – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/domicile
Bipedal – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bipedal
The following words are used in the movie with alternate meanings and/or different parts of speech than the normally recognized definitions/speech part (The GRE is quite fond of using words in this manner):
Appointments (as furnishings) – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/appointments
Tender (transitive verb) – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Tender
Accessory (as used in law) – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/accessory
Posture (verb) – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/posture
Enjoy, and let me know how your GRE vocabulary has improved after taking on this fun AND productive study break!
One of the biggest bogeymen of the GRE is a shadowy entity I like to call “That Passage.” Students often tell me that they feel fine with reading comp generally, but they’re afraid that when they take the GRE, they’ll get That Passage — you know, one of those murky, dense, and just all-around incomprehensible ones.
My experience with countless students suggests that the fear of reading comprehension arises from a misunderstanding of what “comprehension” really is. Many seem to believe that comprehension is an understanding of things. Then, when GRE students read a passage full of things they don’t understand, they believe they don’t have a shot at understanding the passage.
Let’s do a quick test. What do you think of this sentence, which opens a famously difficult GRE passage:
“Ronald Dworkin argues that judges are in danger of uncritically embracing an erroneous theory known as legal positivism because they think that the only alternative is a theory that they (and Dworkin) see as clearly unacceptable—natural law.”
In my GRE classes, students almost unanimously agree that they’d rather do just about anything else than keep reading. Perhaps you agree. Interestingly, the sentence is actually quite simple. It just looks complicated because it throws out two unfamiliar terms — “natural law” and “legal positivism” — without defining them. Upon seeing unfamiliar words, students freeze up and fear that they’ve already lost the comprehension game.
Not so! Here’s the most valuable idea to take away from this essay: reading comprehension on the GRE isn’t the understanding of things. It’s the understanding of connections between things. What’s legal positivism? Who cares! The only thing that matters is that legal positivism is bad – which almost anyone can tell from the emphatic words “danger,” “uncritically,” and “erroneous.” Natural law must be terrible too, given that it’s “clearly unacceptable.” So all you really need to get out of the sentence is that two ideas are out there, and they both stink.
My favorite way to think of comprehension is to see it as a field of circles with connecting lines. In my mind there’s a “legal positivism” circle and a “bad” circle, and because those two ideas are connected, there’s a line between them. I’ve taught the Dworkin passage several dozen times, and I still don’t really know what’s inside the “legal positivism” circle. Lucky for me, I don’t have to — and neither do you. As long as you see the connecting lines between familiar and unfamiliar terms, you can understand any GRE passage well enough to score its points.
Perhaps more than any other section of the GRE, reading comprehension is the subject of a lot of mysticism. People seem to think that reading is a “life skill,” and that if you haven’t mastered it by the time you take the GRE, you’re out of luck. Those who have the skill can read the most abstruse of passages and “just get them,” as though struck by divine bolts of understanding. Meanwhile, those less fortunate are doomed to wallow in perpetual ignorance and confusion.
All of this is nonsense. Reading comprehension is a skill, and like all skills, it is statistically impossible that every single person in the world will be equally good at it. The fact that some people are naturally better than others is not a surprise, but a mathematical certainty. Those who are good at reading comprehension aren’t good because heavenly inspiration keeps showering their brains; they’re good because they perform simple, concrete behaviors and notice simple, concrete patterns. Anyone who learns these behaviors and patterns will be just as good at reading comprehension.
In this post, I’d like to share with you the single most important behavior for success in reading comprehension, and offer an easy example to illustrate.
The behavior I’m talking about is prediction. Don’t you hate it when you reach the end of a paragraph and realize, dazedly, that you have no idea what you’ve just read? This happens because you’re reading first, then working backwards to comprehend what you’ve just read. That strategy works fine for Twilight and Harry Potter, but not for serious academic articles. You’ve got to do it backwards: try to understand first, and then read. Once you make a conscious effort to read this way, you’ll be surprised by the extent to which academic writers give away nearly everything they’re about to tell you.
Here’s an easy example. How often have you read passages whose opening lines contain one of these phrases?
Philosophers have long held that…
Traditionally, sociologists have argued that…
It has been commonly believed that…
Many people read over such a phrase with nary a second thought, which is a shame, because these phrases effectively spill all the author’s beans. What it does mean when the author kicks things off with a “traditional,” “long held,” or “commonly believed” point of view? It means the author will challenge it. If the author thought that the view were current and correct, she wouldn’t bother going out of her way to make sure you knew the view was “traditional” and held by somebody else. She’d just present the view as fact.
Readers who notice this simple pattern know what’s coming next. They’re less likely to be caught off guard and more likely to understand the author’s point. By contrast, readers who gloss over this big clue won’t know what to look for, and will therefore be more likely to miss it.
So, you are preparing yourself for the GRE and you need to add some egghead words to your prodigiousand more commonly utilized line-up of text-speak, pop culture jargon, and 4-letter expletives (hey, studying for the GRE can be stressful!) Certainly, you are aware that there are tools for such a task to be found on many websites – Kaplan, of course, includes in our course offerings many effective means to increase and enrich your vocabulary.
Additionally, reading novels and certain newspapers and magazines (the ones that don’t cater to a fifth-grade reading level – all apologies to USA Today and People magazine, which are just fine for their purpose of informing and entertaining) will aid you in realizing heretofore unexplored words. However, perhaps even better fodder for the acquisition of headier, grad-level words can be found by examining trade journals and works of non-fiction. Try delving into the dense prose that can readily be found in such word hordes as The Wall Street Journal or Architectural Digest. Not into mergers and acquisitions? Is the study of buttresses not to your liking? Indeed, if you search with the slightest zest, you can locate a vocabulary-invigorating periodical that may actually speak to your own interests.
Moreover, since the New GRE Verbal section is known to traffic in questions concerning the logical analysis of arguments, your reading and appraising such content in political or economic publications, for instance, can’t help but serve you synchronous benefits.
Acquiring a rich and test-ready vocabulary via contextual clues found within the writing of an intelligent author rather than simply studying the dry drudgery of flashcards or daily list o’ words repetition is much more intuitive, organic, and heaven forbid, fun!
After all, The New GRE now limits its assessment of your word knowledge to sentence equivalence, text completions and words-in-context of reading comp passages. Since the GRE has retired its tired format of testing words in a vacuum (antonyms and analogies), why not learn them in a similar manner to that in which they are tested?