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GRE Vocab Wednesday: People on T.V.

Channel-surfing on television, while not without deserved mind-numbing connotations, offers up a range of different personalities. We have everything from the frenetic hawker of the home-shopping network (who sounds like he just double-fisted two Venti Starbucks drinks) to the droning talking heads of the cable news channel (who look like they could use a cup of coffee).

Pundit (n.)

Nope, this is not a word for somebody who makes really bad puns (though English calls for such a word). A pundit comes from the Sanskrit pandit, which was a wise man. A pundit is any expert, but today has taken on a more negative connotation. An expert who has been called on CNN to pontificate about the latest political imbroglio, while all the time wearing a smug look of infallibility, has been branded a pundit.

Pundits come in all stripes—from sportscasters to scientists—yet it is usually the aforementioned political pundit whom we associate with this word.


Stalwart (adj.)

I know, this word sounds like something unpleasant that you do not want to contract. Surprisingly, the word has a positive connotation. Indeed, you would want your best friend to be stalwart, or loyal and supportive. Stalwart is a word that usually pops up in the context of a cause. A stalwart supporter of a cause is one who is not easily cowed in his or her defense of her beliefs.

Stalwart can also mean stout and hardy, like the dwarves from Lord of the Rings (who are also stalwart in the first sense of the word). Fine that is a movie, but many shows feature the good guys in the background, who dash to help the show’s hero or heroine.

A stalwart supporter of the Civil Rights, Rosa Parks, despite her meek demeanor and diminutive frame, became the linchpin of the Montgomery bus boycotts.


Contrarian (n.)

If everyone is jamming to the latest groove, the contrarian is chilling to Tchaikovsky. If all the pundits are trumpeting economic successes, the contrarian is prophesizing fiscal doom. If all business school students are taking the GMAT, the contrarian is taking the GRE.

As you can guess, a contrarian is one who stands apart from the group and does or says his/her own thing. Contrarians are often brought on news shows, because they will keep things lively with a different—and pointed—point of view.


Charlatan (n.)

In a way, many actors are charlatans. Take the “doctors” on the hospital drama. To fit the role, these actors must dupe us into thinking that they actually possess the knowledge of a top-rate surgeon (my doctor friends are hardly impressed by the attempts at jargon—not that I can really tell the difference).

More broadly speaking, a charlatan is someone who pretends to have knowledge in a certain field, knowledge that they don’t actually possess. Often the charlatan will redress his or her ignorance with pretentious displays of knowledge.

Bubba Brown, pseudonym, Jason Fit, turned out to be a charlatan of the highest order: at a stalwart 350-pounds (165 kg), he wrote a best seller on healthy eating and living, despite his penchant for never leaving the couch except for late night runs to McDonald’s.


Claque (n.)

This is not an actual person you see on T.V. but rather a group of people you hear. See a claque is a group of people whom a performer hires to applause. It makes sense: if you are a comedian and you want to be sure to get some laughs, seat your ten best friends in the first row. For GRE purposes, a claque (rhymes with black) can also be any group of sycophantic followers.

How does this relate to television? Well, many shows—usually the subpar ones—use what is called a laugh track. At just the millisecond when the punch line has punched, we hear a roar of applause. This is not coming from real life people—either those paid to laugh (a la claque) or those who are genuinely moved. Instead, it is coming from a laugh track, a machine that produces the sound of applause. Maybe, the machine should be renamed a claque track.


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