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 Words List 1

GRE Words #1 | It’s all Greek and Latin

GRE Vocabulary Set 1

Hello folks!

This is the first GRE Words Blog in a series that will help expand your vocabulary and explore the intriguing stories behind the origins of words. Learning GRE words need not be tedious any longer.

Each week, we’ll post GRE Word Flashcards on our social media handles and finish the set off with a few more GRE words here, accompanied by stories, facts, and some questions for you to answer. 

#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

GRE Words in this edition

The words in this set are lingua franca, alma mater, carpe diem, alter ego and mea culpa.

i. lingua franca

Part of Speech – Noun

Definition– a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different.

Origin – comes from ‘Frankish Language’. Franks was a term used for Western Europeans, in general.

Usage – He was Indian, she was Italian. English was their lingua franca.

ii. alma mater

Part of Speech – Noun

Definition – the university, school, or college that one formerly attended.

Origin : comes from Latin for ‘generous mother’. Supposed to indicate how educational institutions nurture and aid in the development of people.

Usage – He started teaching at his alma mater this year.

iii. alter ego

Part of Speech – Noun

Definition – a person’s secondary or alternative personality.

Origin – comes from Latin for ‘other self.’

Usage – Superman is the alter ego of Clark Kent.

iv. carpe diem 

Part of Speech – Noun 
Definition – used to urge someone to make the most of the present time and give little thought to the future. 
Origin – comes from Latin for ‘seize the day.’ 
Usage – His attitude towards his life is carpe diem. 

v. mea culpa 

Part of Speech – Noun 
Definition – used as an acknowledgement of one’s fault or error. 
Origin – comes from Latin for ‘by my fault.’ 
Usage – “‘Well, whose fault was that?’ ‘Mea culpa!’ Frank said”. 

Question for the Reader

What other Latin loanwords do we frequently use? Leave them in the comments.

The Words’ Origins

The GRE Words Blog is incomplete without interesting stories that surround the etymology of these words. (etymology is the study of word origins).
So, let’s dive in!

GRE Words Alma Mater

Alma mater

Alma mater comes from the Latin for ‘generous mother’.

But the word ‘alma mater’ was used to refer to ‘mother goddesses’ such as Ceres (the Greek Goddess of agriculture, fertility, and motherly relationships).

(Fun Fact : Cereals get their name from Ceres.)

The University of Bologna, the longest serving university in the Western world, adopted the motto, Alma Mater Studiorum.

Now, what does that mean? “Nurturing mother of studies”. 

This gave rise to the term ‘alma mater’ being used in the context it is today. It is also the reason students who graduate from college are called alumni. If alma mater is ‘nourishing mother’, alumni are ‘nurslings’ or “those who are nourished” 

GRE Word Alter Ego

Alter Ego

Alter Ego is a term that has had many connotations since it was first introduced. The person who coined the word meant it as ‘a second self, a trusted friend.’

However, over time, an alter ego became a subject of intrigue, a hidden, darker version of ourselves.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Fiction has had legendary characters that epitomize alter egos. But, none as iconic as Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll. Dr. Jekyll, a sociable man of science, discovers that he has evil within him that he needs to rid himself of. Hence, he prepares a serum that allows him to separate that part of him into an alter ego, called Mr. Hyde. 

Mr. Hyde is a violent man, and is depicted as injuring and even killing several people across the length of the novella. Dr. Jekyll keeps him in control and stops taking the serum for an extended time. When he finally does, he unleashes Hyde who has grown in power. So much so, that Dr. Jekyll has to take the serum to have control and maintain consciousness.  

Well, I won’t spoil the fun of the ending. So, go check the book out. 
Bonne Lecture!

You can read the book for free here – https://www.gutenberg.org/files/43/43-h/43-h.htm

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  1. Well this is very informative. Will definitely adopt a few words from here in my vocab! Great read 😀

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