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GRE Article of the Month – January 2013: Utopian For Beginners

By Joshua Foer for The New Yorker

Every so often an article comes along that is so compelling, alive, and downright unpredictable that I feel I have to share it with everyone. Now that we have an article of the month on Clemmonsdogpark blog, the timing is perfect.

The article is “Utopian For Beginners”, by Joshua Foer. The author leads us through a world that is totally unknown to me: those who create made-up languages and, as the author intriguingly shows us, their toadies, who, literally, hang on their every word. One moment we are stuck inside the head of John Quijada, a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) employee whose side hobby is creating the world’s most thorough—yet apparently precise—language, Ithkuil. The next, we are following him on tour through the Republic of Kalmikya, a virtually unknown province along the Caspian Sea. Apparently, the denizens there have been so inspired by Ithkuil that they’ve made a cult worshiping the language and, by extension, John Quijada. I know it sounds like the half-baked plot of a science fiction novel, but it’s real, and it gets even more interesting.

As you can tell, this article is anything but dry. Nonetheless, there is plenty of vocabulary and enough abstract talk on the nuts and bolts of language that your reading brain will definitely get a solid workout, without even realizing it.

Below are ten high-frequency GRE vocabulary words I plucked from the first page alone. My recommendation is to make a copy of the article and highlight the words as you read. So you don’t get to distracted, only look the words up once you’ve finished. Once you’ve looked up the words, go back through the article and see if you can remember the definition of the word as you read the word in context.

Word List:

  • Scrutinize
  • Furtiveness
  • Quixotic
  • Emanating
  • Ardor
  • Polymath
  • Volition
  • Lexicon
  • Ambiguity
  • Ubiquity


Bonus Assignment

Write a one-page response to the article in which you summarize important parts and include your own opinion on the article. See if you can use twenty-five GRE words. The words do not need to come from the article, but can come from any vocabulary source.

Have fun! 🙂


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