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 Word List #14 – Scandinavian Loanwords

GRE Word List #14 - Scandinavian Loanwords
The Aurora Borealis

Hello folks, welcome to the 14th GRE Word List Blog. This series of blogs deals with Essential Words for the GRE and helps GRE aspirants bolster their GRE Verbal Preparation, and ace the GRE Verbal section. In this blog, we will explore a few English words adapted from other languages – i.e. Loanwords.

If you haven’t already, check out our other GRE Word List blogs.

Scandinavia is a term that typically refers to the countries of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. So, this week’s words are loanwords from their respective languages to English.

This week’s loanwords are Maelstrom, Gauntlet/Take up the gauntlet, Quisling, Smorgasbord, and Berserk.

Let us know if what other languages’ Loanwords you’d like to know more about in the comments!

Maelstrom meaning

i. maelström

Part of Speech – noun
1. a powerful whirlpool in the sea or a river.
2. a situation or state of confused movement or violent turmoil.
Loanwords’ Origins – from early modern Dutch (denoting a mythical whirlpool in the Arctic Ocean, west of Norway), from maalen ‘grind, whirl’ + stroom ‘stream’.
Synonyms – vortex, eddy, turbulence.
Usage – She was caught up in a maelstrom of emotions.

Ed, Edd, and Eddies

An eddy is a current of water running contrary to the main current, thus creating a circle/whirlpool of water. The Moskstraumen is one such whirlpool that has formed in the Norwegian Sea. It is one of the strongest whirlpools/maelstroms in the world. Edgar Allan Poe introduced the word maelstrom into English through his story ‘A Descent into the Maelström.’

Another popular maelstrom is the set of Naruto whirlpools, which are off the coast of Japan. The shape of the Naruto whirlpools inspired the cured fish dish Narutomaki surimi, a staple topping/accompaniment with most ramen dishes. This dish in turn inspired the character of Naruto Uzumaki (meaning whirlpool), in the world-famous manga/anime of the same name.

ii. gauntlet / take up the gauntlet

Part of Speech – noun/phrase
1. a strong glove with a long, loose wrist.
2. accept a challenge.
Loanwords’ Origins – from Old French gantelet, diminutive of gant ‘glove’, of Germanic origin.
Synonyms – glove/compete.
Usage – In January 2021, he took up the gauntlet of getting a perfect GRE Score.

iii. quisling

Part of Speech – noun
Definition – a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying one’s country.
Loanwords’ Origins – Second World War: from the name of Major Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian army officer and diplomat who ruled Norway on behalf of the German occupying forces (1940–45).
Synonyms – turncoat, Judas, Benedict Arnold.
Usage – As soon as the invaders crossed the borders, the quisling soldiers defected to their armies.

Thirty Pieces of Kroner

Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian military officer, who first came to prominence as a collaborator of Nobel Peace Prize winner Fridtjof Nansen, an explorer who helped alleviate the Russian famine of 1921. He returned to Norway later and served as the Minister of Defense, representing the Farmers’ Party.

From there on, his karmic compass takes a deep dive southward, as he quit the Farmers’ Party to start a conservative outfit, the Nasjonal Samling. When Germany invaded Norway, he tried to stage a coup d’etat and failed. He was then appointed Prime Minister of Norway and headed the country alongside a Nazi leader. His pro-Nazi puppet govt. was filled with Nasjonal ministers, and even participated in the despicable Final Solution, the genocide of Jews.

Aptly, Quisling’s name became a byword for traitor, alongside names such as Judas, and Benedict Arnold. The Times, which introduced the word to the larger English-speaking audience asserted “To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor… they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous.” 

iv. smorgasbord

Part of Speech – noun
Definition – a wide range of something; a variety.
Loanwords’ Origins – Swedish, from smörgås ‘(slice of) bread and butter’ (from smör ‘butter’ + gås ‘goose, lump of butter’) + bord ‘table’.
Synonyms – medley, potpourri, assortment.
Usage – Wizako’s GRE Blogs contain a smorgasbord of GRE Words, trivia, and stories.

Sweetish Buffet

Smörgåsbord is a type of Scandinavian meal, originating in Sweden, served buffet-style with multiple hot and cold dishes of various foods on a table.

Some distinctly Swedish food items are –

  • Lingonberries – sour/tart/slightly sweet berries, eaten raw, or used to make sauce, juice, jam, wine and baked goods.
  • Swedish Meatballs – typically smaller than their Italian counterparts, contain equal portions of beef and pork, and are seasoned with a variety of spices.
  • Gravlax – salmon that is cured using a mix of salt and sugar, and may occasionally be cold-smoked.
  • Polkagris – a Swedish stick candy, typically red and white, flavored with peppermint.

Check out a more detailed list of Swedish cuisine and what they serve at smorgasbords and julbords here.

berserk meaning

v. berserk

Part of Speech – adjective
Definition – out of control with anger or excitement; wild or frenzied.
Loanwords’ Origins – early 19th century (originally as a noun denoting an ancient Norse warrior who fought with wild or uncontrolled ferocity): from Old Norse berserkr (noun), from birn-, bjorn (bear) + serkr ‘coat’, also possibly from berr ‘bare’ (i.e. without armour).
Synonyms – maniacal, frenzied, frantic, delirious.
Usage – As soon as Jordan made the Buzzer Beater shot, the crowd went berserk.

Grizzly War Veteran

Berserkers fought in a trance-like fury in battle and were seemingly impervious to minor damage when in fury. The fury state was called berserkergang (represent!) and would present with shivering and chattering of teeth.

When in fury, the berserker would have very little control of their own actions and tended to cut down everything in their path. This does play into the typical perceptions of Vikings as pillagers and raiders.

The bare-shirted part of the etymology is dubious – they’re crazy, but not crazy enough to fight with no armour, or indeed, clothes. The ‘bear-shirted’ variant is believed to be truer, as there are accounts of warriors who would wear a bearskin/cape when going to battle. There are wolf variants as well, called Úlfhéðnar, though the Old Norse people disliked and even feared wolves. There are those who claim that the Úlfhéðnar and their seemingly animal rage, and style of fighting led to the mythos that surrounds werewolves.

Norse, indeed!

3 GRE Words in 5 minutes!

Watch the video below or here to learn more about Scandinavian GRE Words!

GRE Vocabulary | GRE Word List | 3 GRE Words in 5 Minutes | Scandinavian Loanwords

Liked this GRE Scandinavian Loanwords Blog, and looking for other themed blogs to read?
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We’ll be posting these Loanwords in Flashcard format there!

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