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eponyms - GRE Word List

GRE Word List #21: What’s in a name?

Hello folks, welcome to the 21st GRE Word List Blog. This series of blogs aims to provide GRE Vocabulary practice in the form of a comprehensive GRE Word List to bolster your GRE Preparation.

Last time, I wrote about some electrifying words that might find their way into the sentence equivalence and test completion sections of the GRE test, along with interesting stories about Benjamin Franklin (the MVP of the all-rounders), Pokemon, and more!

You can read that here in GRE Word List Blog #20!

This GRE vocabulary blog is about words that derive their names from people, real and fictional – eponyms! (which is sadly not an eponym itself) This blog’s GRE Words are algorithm, draconian, mesmerize, boycott, and hermetic.

Without a shadow of a doubt

You may be wondering what the image above has to do with the blog, now that you know the theme. Well, the image contains a silhouette of a person. A silhouette is a featureless image of a living being or object, depicted typically, in all black.

Etienne de Silhouette was a French finance minister, under whom the French people were subject to severe economic restrictions, due to the Seven Years’ War. As a result of some of the restrictions, photography and portrait-making became luxurious commodities. So, the cheapest way to record a person’s image was to make a silhouette out of their person, using black card.

With Wordle becoming a global cultural phenomenon, several spinoffs have been created, some more enjoyable and worthwhile than others. Worldle is one such spinoff – a game akin to Wordle, where you have 6 attempts to guess a country/territory using its silhouette. Hints include how far you are from the intended country, and which direction you should move in. Check it out here!

Points of Author-ity

Starting off with two words that are not so common in the GRE, but a must-know given the theme, we’ll look at Kafkaesque and Orwellian.

Franz Kafka was a Czech novelist who often wrote about surreal and bizarre topics, especially in his piece de resistance, ‘The Metamorphosis‘ – a book about a salesman who wakes up one morning to find that he has transformed into a giant insect. His books also tackled the trope of an isolated protagonist going up against socio-bureaucratic powers.

George Orwell is well-known for ‘Animal Farm,’ a book about a group of animals rebelling against a farmer to improve their conditions, and one that deals with the theme of dystopia, and for ‘1984,’ another classic that deals with totalitarianism, and surveillance, among other serious themes.

The Simpsons, a famous, long-running, animated show included a really good bit in their episode, ‘Orange Is the New Yellow,’ to illustrate what the two adjectives mean. Officers arrest Marge for letting Bart play alone in the park. The judge sentences her to 90 days for the ‘offence’, and Lisa, ever the cultured one, yells out ‘That’s Kafkaesque,’ referencing the absurd bureaucratic punishment. The judge replies, “I’ve got my eye on you.” Lisa bursts out, “Now it’s Orwellian!”

Comedy. Gold.

i. algorithm

Part of Speech – noun
Definition – a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Word Origins – late 17th century (influenced by Greek arithmos ‘number’) of Middle English algorism, via Old French from medieval Latin algorismus.
Synonyms – formula, theorem, contrivance.
Usage – Self-teaching algorithms will get better and better at making suggestions.

What do you call a song to save the environment?

No, not MJ’s Heal the world. An ‘Al Gore rhythm.’

With that over with, let’s dive into the origin of this GRE Word.

Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī was a Persian polymath who came up with the first system of linear and quadratic equations. His name is the origin of the above term ‘algorism’ and eventually, algorithm. He wrote a book on calculation that involved ‘completion and balancing’ and that book is said to be the origin of the word ‘algebra.’

Algebra, though used in a mathematical context nowadays, was initially used in medical contexts as ‘al-jabr’ – mending or putting together bones. He’s also said to have contributed meaningfully to trigonometry.

ii. draconian

Part of Speech – adjective
Definition – excessively harsh and severe
Word Origins – late 19th century: from the name of Draco + -ian
Synonyms – harsh, stringent, authoritarian.
Usage – The government took draconian measures to curb the protests.

“My father shall hear about this”

Very different to his teenage namesake who’d terrorise teen wizards millennia later, Draco was an ancient Athenian lawgiver in the 7th century BC, who repealed the existing oral laws and blood feuds prevalent in Athens, and committed a set of laws to wooden steles, creating one of the earliest known constitutions.

He laid important legal foundations, such as distinguishing between murder and involuntary homicide, among others. However, the reason why his name became associated with harsh laws – The death penalty was the punishment for even minor offences, such as stealing a cabbage.

Fortunately(?), these laws were repealed within a century and replaced; all, except for the homicide law – it is up to the victim’s relatives to prosecute a killer. If the death was unintentional, the offender is exiled.
To read a bit more about Athenian ostracisms – fascinating proceedings – click here and visit the Ancient Greece section of the GRE Word Blog #2.

iii. boycott

Part of Speech – noun/verb
Definition – 
1. withdraw from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest.
2. a punitive ban on relations with other bodies, cooperation with a policy, or the handling of goods.
Word Origins – from the name of Captain Charles C. Boycott (1832–97).
Synonyms – spurn, embargo, moratorium.
Usage – I’ve decided to boycott all non-biodegradable products.

Chuck it out

Charles Boycott, an English land agent for an Anglo-Irish lord, ’employed’ several Irish harvesters and didn’t treat them well. In response, the Irish National Land League started a systematic ‘Denial of Service’ attack against him, persuading or coercing local shopowners to deny him service, and enlisting all local labourers in their cause. Charles was thus driven out of Ireland, and that was the first ‘boycott.’

There have been several famous boycotts, although the British seem to figure in several of them. Most curious, as they would say.

The first, is the Boston Tea Party, an act of protest led by the Sons of Liberty in America, against the British about their attempts to sell tea in America without paying taxes. Several protesters, dressed as American-Indians (natives) threw chests of tea overboard ships in the Boston harbour.

The second, closer home, was the Indians’ boycott of British-manufactured goods, led by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji put forth Khadi and other Indian-made products as indigenous alternatives to imported products and contributed to a big part of the Independence movements against the British rule.

Safe to say, the British weren’t too chuffed about these!

iv. mesmerize

Part of Speech – verb
Definition – capture the complete attention of (someone); transfix.
Word Origins – from Franz Mesmer; late 18th century
Synonyms – enthrall, spellbind, bewitch.
Usage – He was mesmerized by the way she taught GRE Vocabulary.

When in Franz

Franz Mesmer was a German doctor who, in the 18th century, developed his theory of animal magnetism. He claimed that humans (and other living beings) possess magnetic fields and our bodies can be healed leveraging our magnetism. Although still classified as ‘alternative medicine,’ his ideas had a mixed reception in 1700s Europe.

He practiced his therapy using magnetism for several mental and psychological ailments, and half of Paris saw him as a madman & the other half, a misunderstood genius. He tried unsuccessfully, to apply to the Royal Academy of Sciences to recognize his doctrines. News of his healing reached King Louis XVI, who appointed an illustrious committee of sorts, to investigate the field of animal magnetism. Antoine Lavoisier (chemist who named H and O), Joseph-Igance Guillotin (inventor of the eponymous French Revolution chopper – the Guillotine), Jean Sylvain Bailly (presided over the Tennis Court Oath, and was later guillotined) , and the electrifying Benjamin Franklin (too awesome to shoehorn a description here) rounded off this committee!

Check out a section about ol’ Ben Franks here in the GRE Word List Blog #20!

v. hermetic

Part of Speech – adjective
Definition – 
1. (of a seal or closure) complete and airtight.
2. difficult to understand because intended for a small number of people with specialized knowledge.
Word Origins – mid 17th century, from modern Latin hermeticus, from Hermes.
Synonyms – airtight, waterproof.
Usage – The hermetic seal on the astronauts’ helmet help them stay alive in space.

The Divine Trickster

Hermes is the Greek God of travel, commerce, messages, flocks, and more! He also plays a lot of tricks on his convoluted, Greek, celestial, family-tree members. Check out Homer’s telling of a bovine theft gone wrong here.

A version of him and the Egyptian god of knowledge, Thoth, called Hermes Trismegistus, is supposed to have taught and written about several subjects like philosophy and science. They proposed that the wisdom of the universe consisted of three major disciplines of knowledge – alchemy, astrology, and theurgy.

In mythology, they invented the method for making a glass container airtight using alchemy – what has now come to be known as a hermetic seal.

And that is all for this GRE Word List blog! See you for a very special #22 soon!

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