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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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