Hello folks! Welcome to the 9th blog of the GRE English Word List. This series of blogs is a weekly GRE Words List that helps GRE aspirants bolster their GRE English, and ace the GRE Verbal section.

If you haven’t already, check out our other blogs here.

Back at it with the white vans

We're back to themed lists, with today's themed GRE English Word List - BadJectives. Adjectives that have negative connotations, or in some cases, are straight-up vices.
This week's words are Narcissistic, Lackadaisical, Hedonistic, Irascible and Machiavellian.
Read on for some interesting word origins and trivia.

i. narcissistic

Part of Speech - adjective
Definition - having or showing an excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one's physical appearance.
Word Origins - from the Greek name Narkissos/Narcissus + -ism.
Synonyms - vain, self-centred, egocentric.
Usage - He’s such a narcissist that his walls must be covered in mirrors.

Narc is sus

This Greek origin story is a twofer - Two mythical figures having a shared origin story. Seldom ends well, and this one isn't any different.
This is one version of the myth - Ovid's Metamorphoses - but is generally accepted to be true.

When Narcissus was born, a great seer made a prediction about Narcissus' life. He said that Narcissus would live long if he didn't discover himself (See the irony in that?).
Years later, Echo, a nymph became attracted to Narcissus and stalked him. Sensing that he was being followed, Narcissus asked, 'Who's there?' Echo repeated "Who's there?" and revealed herself.

A bit of context - Echo was a mountain nymph who was ordered by Zeus to distract Hera while he consorted with other nymphs. Echo was a fast-talker and managed to do so long enough for Zeus to escape. So, Echo incurred Hera's wrath and was cursed by Hera to be only able to repeat the last words spoken to her.

Back to Narcissus

Startled by her approach, Narcissus rebuffed her advances and left Echo heartbroken. Echo withdrew from society and became so lonely, that quite literally, only an echo of her remained. Yet, she still pined for Narcissus.

Nemesis, the Goddess of Revenge, wanted Narcissus to get his comeuppance.
She made him come across a body of water, in which he caught his reflection.
So taken by his own image, he fell in love with it, neither able to divert his gaze nor do anything about his love.
As he lay wasting away over his love, he uttered "Oh marvellous boy, I loved you in vain, farewell" and turned into a flower. Echo, who was watching, uttered "farewell" and faded away as well. Only her voice remained, destined to repeat what others say.

Sorry for ruining the fun of every Echo Point you visit henceforth.

[Fun Fact: The Portrait of Dorian Gray is based on the myth of Narcissus.]

ii. lackadaisical

Part of Speech - adjective
Definition - lacking enthusiasm and determination; carelessly lazy.
Word Origins - mid 18th century (also in the sense ‘feebly sentimental’): from lackaday or its obsolete extended form lackadaisy.
Synonyms - careless, lazy, unenthusiastic.
Usage - His parents did not approve of his lackadaisical attitude towards his studies.


Unlike what the word seems to suggest, the origins of lackadaisical has nothing to do with daisies.
One story suggests that it originated from alas/alack and grew to 'alack the day' as referenced in Romeo and Juliet. In this context, the word suggests regret or disappointment.

The other variant is more in line with the modern usage (if any) of the word.
The phrase 'alack the day' was taken and made to sound whimsical, by apparently adding a 'sical' to the end, thus giving the word a slightly less sombre meaning.
To get a better account of how lackadaisical traces its origins, check this blog out.

iii. hedonistic

Part of Speech - adjective
Definition - engaged in the pursuit of pleasure; sensually self-indulgent.
Word Origins - from Greek hēdonē ‘pleasure’ + -ism.
Synonyms - self-indulgent, luxurious, excessive.
Usage - If you overcome your inhibitions, you’re free to express your hedonistic tendencies.

The Pleasure's All Mine

Hedonism as a concept has been part of most civilizations. The earliest instance of advocacy of hedonism is believed to be in the ancient Sumerian Civilization. Then on, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans seem to have taken it to heart. There's a reason 'Bacchanalian', a word derived from the Roman god Bacchus, has come to signify the most extravagant and wildest of parties/revelries.

However, as time went on, the ideology of conservatism and modesty started gaining traction.
Some religions started considering hedonism a sin, and either outright condemned it or advocated moderate measures of hedonism, asking practitioners to consider morality, responsibility, etc. as more important than seeking pleasure for its own sake.

Modern philosophers looked at hedonism from the perspective of utilitarianism.
Utilitarians aim for the maximization of happiness for themselves as well as others affected.

Bentham and Mill, two English philosophers had two contrasting theories about pleasure.
Bentham stated that he could measure pleasure quantitatively. The value of pleasure is its intensity multiplied by its duration. In contrast, Mill believed that pleasure was purely qualitative - people could experience different intensities and layers of pleasure. He also said that lower beings (used pigs as an example) are content with lower forms of pleasure, whereas higher beings are in the pursuit of higher quality of pleasure, and often ignore what's easily available.

iv. irascible

Part of Speech - adjective
Definition - having or showing a tendency to be easily angered.
Word Origins - from late Latin irascibilis, from Latin irasci ‘grow angry’, from ira ‘anger’.
Synonyms - irritable, short-tempered, cranky.
Usage - The Hulk is irascible; he’s always angry.

v. Machiavellian

Part of Speech - adjective
Definition - cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics.
Word Origins - someone who schemes like Niccolo Machiavelli.
Synonyms - devious, sly, conniving.
Usage - His Machiavellian plan to usurp the king's throne was successful.

The Chanakya Of Florence

Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat and politician who lived during the Renaissance.
In his political treatise "Il Principe' or 'The Prince', he made clear his opinions and principles for politics.
He maintained that politics didn't need emotion. According to him, it was a chess game between opponents, not enemies.
He condoned and in fact, advocated the use of 'dishonest' and 'cruel' means by rulers to get what they wanted. This was as long as the intention behind the actions, and the ends were beneficial to the larger population.

He wasn't the first to advocate divorcing politics and emotion, however. Closer home, over a millennium ago, Chanakya had already advocated and executed his Arthashastra to great success and infamy. To read more about the legend of Chanakya across cultures, click here.

Machiavelli's works were so influential, they contributed to the negative connotations/perceptions people have of the words 'politics' and 'politicians'.
An apocryphal tale also claims it's because of him that The Devil has the nickname - 'Old Nick.'

Rapper Tupac was greatly influenced by Machiavelli's works, when in prison.
He changed his stage name to Makaveli when he got out; and the rest, as they say, is history.

That's all for this week's blog, folks.
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GRE Vocabulary List 3

GRE Vocabulary List #3 | Must Know GRE Words Set 1

Must Know GRE Words Set 1

Hello folks, welcome to the 3rd blog in a series of GRE Vocabulary Blogs that we’re bringing to you, to help you ace the GRE Verbal section. The response we got on the first two blogs has been great, and we’re very grateful.

#1 – It’s all Greek and Latin!
#2 – Welcome to the Blob!
#3 – Must-Know GRE Words Set 1
#4 – GRE-Ology
#5 – Reading Apprehension

Unlike our two earlier GRE Vocabulary blogs, words in this blog aren’t connected by an overarching theme. We just picked words that we deem ‘Must Know GRE Words’ and have interspersed them between our usual themed blogs.

This week’s words are Innocuous, Precursor, Hypothesis, Intersperse, and Penchant.

i. Innocuous

Part of Speech – adjective
Definition – not harmful or offensive.
Word Origins: from Latin innocuus, from in- ‘not’ + nocuus ‘injurious’ 
Synonyms – harmless, safe.
Usage – Because the gas leak was innocuous, the residents did not need to worry about it.

‘primum non nocere’

‘nocuus’ or its verb form ‘nocere’ is the root or origin for quite a few interesting words.

A few of them are ‘innocence’, ‘nuisance’ and ‘noxious’.
All these words are synonyms or antonyms of one another, and mean ‘causing harm’ or ‘does not cause harm.’

Nocuus/nocere lend themselves, in various forms, The first one is ‘primum non nocere’, Latin for ‘First, do no harm.’

All medical students learn this maxim in med school. Above all else, do no harm.

Early versions of the famous Hippocratic oath included a version of this. This phrase is often invoked in its anglicized form in cases where the risk/possibility of harm/damage to the patient outweighs the potential benefit they’d gain from it.

Example – Treating a patient with a stronger albeit riskier option that offers a faster cure, when there’s a more conservative option available which is safer, yet guaranteed to work.

The Nocebo Effect

In 1961, Walter Kennedy coined the other term derived from ‘nocere’.

Clinical drug trials often consist of two strata of patients – one strata of patients, on the drug being tested. The other, on a fake pill, called a placebo, and no one (not even the doctors running the trial) knows who’s on what until the end of the trial period.

The placebo (meaning ‘I shall please’)  pill helps determine if patients on the real pill got better / showed improvement because of the real pill, or because they thought they were on the real pill (which the placebo patients would.)

The term coined by Kennedy was its counterpart, nocebo.

Nocebo means ‘I shall harm.’ The nocebo effect meant that if patients perceived a certain treatment as harmful for them, there would be physiological changes in the body that would be harmful as well.

For example, an expectation of pain may induce anxiety, which in turn causes the release of cholecystokinin, which facilitates pain transmission.

While placebo and nocebo are purely psychological, their effects may be real and physiological.

Read more about The Nocebo Effect here.

ii. Precursor

Part of Speech – noun
Definition – preceding something in time, development, or position; preliminary.
Synonyms – prior, antecedent.
Usage – A trailer is a standard precursor before the screening of a movie.

‘Precursor’ has synonyms that can be used in different contexts, positive or negative.
Forerunner‘ denotes something that came before a later version, as a sign of things to come.

Precursor‘ itself refers to something/someone who came before, paving the way for others’ successes. One can interchangeably use words such as ‘pioneer‘ and ‘trailblazer‘ .

Harbinger is a word that indicates the coming of a notable event. The Middle English word ‘herbergeour’ which referred to a person sent in advance to an inn to secure lodging for the party(usually soldiers) is the root for the word.

Harbinger tends to appear in positive contexts.
E.g.. Harbinger of good times; robins are a harbinger of springtime, etc.

iii. Hypothesis 

Part of Speech – noun
Definition – a supposition or proposed explanation made based on limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
Example –  If I master 500+ GRE Vocabulary words, I’ll score a 160+ in the GRE’s Verbal section.
Synonyms – theory, conjecture, surmise.
Usage – The researcher sets up experiments to test the hypothesis.

iv. Intersperse

Part of Speech – verb
Definition – scatter among or between other things; place here and there.
Synonyms – scatter, distribute, spread.
Usage – The debate was interspersed with angry exchanges.

The Latin ‘interspersus’ is the root of the word intersperse. The prefix inter- (“between or among”) combines with “sparsus,” the past participle of spargere, meaning “to scatter.” to form the word.

A variant of “sparsus” is the adjective “sparse,” as well as the verb “spark.”
(The relationship of “spark” to a word that describes something being scattered about makes sense when you think of sparks bursting or scattering off a flame.)

“Intersperse” often precedes the preposition “with,”. Example: “This blog is a list of must-know GRE Vocabulary words interspersed with interesting trivia and word origins.” 

v. Penchant

Part of Speech – noun
Definition – a strong or habitual liking for something or tendency to do something.
Synonyms – liking, tendency, proclivity.
Usage – Hackers have a penchant for breaking into secure systems.

What is the difference between penchant, leaning, propensity, and proclivity?

Like its synonyms “leaning,” “propensity,” and “proclivity,” “penchant” implies a strong instinct or liking for something. Subtle differences in meaning and context help us distinguish them from each other.

“Leaning” usually suggests a liking or attraction not strong enough to be decisive or uncontrollable (“a news channel with conservative leanings”). On the other hand, “propensity” tends to imply a deeply ingrained and usually irresistible inclination (“a propensity of mothers to be protective”).

“Proclivity” frequently suggests a strong, natural proneness to something objectionable or evil (“a proclivity for vandalism”).

“Penchant,” a descendant of Latin pendere (“to weigh”), typically implies a strongly marked taste in the person or an irresistible attraction in the object (“a penchant for minimalist living”).

What do you have a penchant for? Let us know in the comments.

Cheers, and see you next week!

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