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GRE Vocab Wednesday: There’s A Word For That!

English, as I’m sure you’re becoming very well aware, has a plethora of words for such a range of things that you might often times find yourself surprised, thinking something like, wait, there’s not a word for when you are thinking of someone you haven’t seen in a long time and suddenly you get news from them?  (actually, it’s called a Facebook update).

No language can have just one word—or even a string of words—that can sum up the dizzying array of permutations life throws our way. Yet, English often has a word that perfectly captures a peculiar aspect of life.



The raw dictionary definition of avuncular (relating to an uncle) strikes many as absurd. After all, just whose uncle are we talking about here? What the word connotes is far more apt: resembling that cool, jovial uncle—you know, the one, always cracks jokes and, when you were a child, often saved you from getting in trouble by shouldering some of the blame (oh no, that was actually my idea to eat all the cookies before dinnertime—little Timmy boy only took a bite).

And that’s the essence of a person who is avuncular: he—and it can really only be a “he” since “auntie-icular” has yet to enter the lexicon—who is kind and helpful towards someone younger and less experienced.


Sometimes an activity that we had hoped would help us suddenly becomes potentially troublesome and we need to put a halt to things. That period in which the activity ceases is called a moratorium. Fracking, nuclear testing, taking your shoes off at airport security… all are activities that have a moratorium on them (and here is hoping that the moratorium on taking off shoes is not lifted any time soon).



I’m the sort of the person who likes reading profiles that humanize a famous person, instead of paying mere homage to them. For instance, I like reading about somebody in The New Yorker because the article exposes both what makes the person so intriguing and what makes the person human. Basically, I do not like hagiographies, or really adulatory descriptions of somebody’s life. But hagiographies abound—in magazines and books, Steve Jobs usually invites the same fervor reserved for messianic figures.



Throughout history there have always been the filthy rich—those who so much money that they don’t even know what to do with it. In such case, the default is to live a life of ridiculously pampered luxury. Chauffeurs for gold-plated sedans, a 30-person staff (including a masseuse), and safaris taken on a whim are all to the sybarite’s taste. If you haven’t guessed, a sybarite is anybody who indulges in luxury.

Interestingly, you don’t have to be rich—let alone filthy rich—to be a sybarite. Spend a day at the spa and finish the experience off with some expensive champagne, and you’ll be “doing it up” like a sybarite (just don’t forget to pay that credit card bill).



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