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SAT vocabulary: ominous

More Halloween-related vocabulary! What does ominous mean?

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word ominous

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word ominous, try this quick vocab quiz:

ominous most nearly means

(A) inexperienced (B) lax (C) lofty (D) dark (E) foreboding

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: ADJECTIVE

Pronunciations: IPA: /ˈa.mə.nəs/ Glossary-style: [AH-muh-nuhs]

Definition: giving indication of a coming evil; being an evil omen; threatening (Ex: ominous music in a movie).

Example: It is a fairly standard cinematic device to use darkness to give a film an ominous feel; in fact, it’s hard to imagine an upbeat movie that is dark.

Discussion: If you know the word omen, then you should be able to learn ominous fairly quickly and easily.

If something is ominous, then it shows that something bad will or might happen. In simpler English, something ominous is a “bad sign”, something does not bode well for the future. ominous is stronger a word than something like inauspicious; the former indicates that something bad or evil may occur, while the latter may indicate only that things may not turn out favorably.

And finally, here are some examples of things that might be considered ominous: Dark clouds or spooky, slow music in films gives the film an ominous feel. If someone has just set out on a journey and sees a black cat cross his path, he may find that an ominous sign. (No offense to black cats; I think they’re pretty.)

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SAT vocabulary: iniquitous

Continuing our Halloween-related vocabulary: What does iniquitous mean?

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word iniquitous

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word iniquitous, try this quick vocab quiz:

iniquitous most nearly means

(A) empty (B) extra (C) eerie (D) evil (E) elephantine

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: ADJECTIVE

Pronunciations: IPA: /ɪ.ˈnɪ.kwɪ.təs/ Glossary-style: [ih-NIH-kwih-tuhs]

Definition: evil, sinful, or wicked. extremely unjust or unfair.

Example: There is little that is more iniquitous than the recruiting of young people to join crime circles to increase profits of criminals.

Discussion: iniquitous is a pretty fancy-sounding word, isn’t it? But it’s also an easy word to understand (if a bit hard to pronounce) and has a rather humble etymology, if I may say so.

iniquitous simply means evil or grossly unfair or unjust. And today, in modern English, it has a fairly strong connotation, likely due in part to its comparative rarity in usage.

But would you believe that iniquitous essentially means unequal? If you look closely at the word, you’ll see the similarities in word parts.

So, originally iniquitous referred to a “miscarriage of justice” (a common phrase, by the way), but it has evolved to mean evil. Not a great stretch of the imagination, right?

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SAT vocabulary: pagan

What does pagan mean? You’re about to find out!

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word pagan

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word pagan, try this quick vocab quiz:

pagan most nearly means

(A) heathen (B) heaven (C) haven (D) hater (E) herder

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: NOUN

Pronunciations: IPA: /ˈpeɪ.gən/ Glossary-style: [PAY-guhn]

Definition: a person whose religion is not Islam, Judaism, or Christianity. a person who worships more than one god or goddess, the earth, nature, or the like. a person who highly values sensual pleasure.

Example: People have long had the tendency to consider others who do not accept their religious views to be pagans; however, in the growing pluralistic society of the modern world, people have learned to be more accepting.

Discussion: The word pagan is interesting in several regards.

The word originates from the Latin paganus, which simply means country-dweller (seemingly implying that only city-dwellers were sophisticated enough to be spiritual in an acceptable way).

The original meaning of the word referred to people who were not Muslim, Jewish, or Christian, and especially referred to followers of polytheistic (i.e., many gods) religions.

Because of the negative connotations that many in society held of non-Christian relgions, pagans were considered sinners, heathens, or hedonists. Today, rightly or wrongly, many of those connotations still hold.

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SAT vocabulary: hallowed

More vocabulary related to Halloween! What does hallowed mean? Unlike yesterday’s word, it’s definitely not spooky or eerie.

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word hallowed

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word hallowed, try this quick vocab quiz:

hallowed most nearly means

(A) wholly (B) hot (C) hoarse (D) holy (E) holistic

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: ADJECTIVE

Pronunciations: IPA: /ˈhæ.loud/ Glossary-style: [HAH-load]

Definition: holy or sacred. worthy of great respect.

Example: The area in which the perceived miracle occurred was considered hallowed ground, and over the years became a pilgrimage destination for many believers.

Discussion: If something is hallowed, as a place or a name, then it is holy or blessed (in the religious sense) or highly respected or venerated. For example, religious people may talk about an area that is hallowed (“hallowed ground” is a common phrase) and some established institutions are referred to as hallowed if they’ve existed for many years and are widely respected. For example, some courts or educational instutions may be regarded as hallowed because they are generally perceived as contributing to society.

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SAT vocabulary: eerie

And today, in celebration of the upcoming Halloween day, we have another spooky, scary, or Halloween-inspired word: eerie

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word eerie

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word eerie, try this super-short vocab quiz:

eerie most nearly means

(A) spooky (B) sad (C) simple (D) silent (E) slight

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: ADJECTIVE

Pronunciations: IPA: /ˈi.ri/ Glossary-style: [EE-ree]

Definition: suggesting the supernatural; mysterious. causing fear, dread, or uneasiness (Ex: an eerie scream).

Example: It is a standard device in horror films to fill the soundtrack with eerie sounds, such as the howls of wolves or distant thunder.

Discussion: eerie is a relatively common word that simply means spooky or mysterious, and is especially used to suggest something supernatural. We can use the word eerie to describe anything supernatural, such as ghosts or haunted houses.

I should point out that it is important that the emotion of fear be associated with the thing that is described as eerie. For example, we would be more likely to describe a haunted house as eerie then a UFO. Similarly, a distant howl of a wolf or scream from a person in pain would be more likely to be described as eerie than would a distant sound of a bird singing or even the notes of a distant harp or piano.

Fairly or unfairly, society tends to view the howls of wolves as frightening, whereas the chirping of many birds (note—the cawing of a crow is typically viewed as eerie or spooky) is generally viewed as something happy.

So, in a word, eerie simply means spooky or mysterious.

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SAT vocabulary: uncanny

What does uncanny mean? Well, it’s something spooky for sure!

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word uncanny

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word uncanny, try this quick vocab quiz:

uncanny most nearly means

(A) stout (B) stable (C) strange (D) stuck (E) staged

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: ADJECTIVE

Pronunciations: IPA: /ən.ˈkæ.ni/ Glossary-style: [uhn-KAH-nee]

Definition: supernatural or inexplicable (Ex: tales of the uncanny); mysterious, eerie. greater than what is ordinary or natural; extraordinary (Ex: an uncanny ability to choose good stocks to buy).

Example: Victor was fascinated by all things uncanny—he watched television programs about UFOs, aliens, monsters, and ghosts and read voraciously on these subjects as well.

Discussion: uncanny is a great word. Yes, I say that about all words, and in a sense, all words are great. We can use uncanny to refer to unusual, mysterious, or inexplicable phenomena, events, entities, beings, and the like, even if they do not truly exist or occur. When we think of uncanny things, we often think of ghosts, haunted houses, poltergeists, stigmata, and all manner of supernatural beings such as vampires and werewolves.

We can also use the word uncanny to refer to an ability, talent, or occurence that is so unusual or unexpected as to appear to be supernatural. For example, if you know someone who tends to make accurate predictions, you could say that she has an uncanny ability. Or if someone looks very much like someone else, we could say something like, “Wow, you bear an uncanny resemblance to my brother.”

By the way, the word canny, another great word (that means shrewd or clever) is not related to the word uncanny, even though it would seem that they are.

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SAT vocabulary: munificence

What’s the definition of munificence? Look below to see munificence defined.

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word munificence

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word munificence, try this quick vocab quiz:

munificence most nearly means

(A) skill (B) glee (C) generosity (D) zeal (E) aroma

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: NOUN

Pronunciations: IPA: /myu.ˈnɪ.fə.sənts/ Glossary-style: [myoo-NIH-fuh-suhnts]

Definition: great generosity (Ex: The philanthropist showed munificence in donating millions of dollars to medical research.).

Example: Lisa’s munificence was apparent to all who knew her well, but more impressive was the apparent altruism she displayed by giving of herself without calling attention to herself.

Discussion: munificence is a fancy-sounding word, but it’s pretty simple in meaning—it simply means generosity. The word has another meaning as well, one that I chose not to include because it seems to be rather rare. The word munificence can also be used to refer to the fortification (or strengthening) of something to improve its defense.

munificence also has an adjective counterpart—munificent.

But, as I said, this word is not too common. It sounds fairly easy (perhaps because it’s relatively easy to prounce), but many people, even educated native speakers, don’t know what it means.

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SAT vocabulary: tirade

What does tirade mean? Have a look below!

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word tirade

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word tirade, try this quick vocab quiz:

tirade most nearly means

(A) rant (B) cleansing (C) query (D) option (E) result

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: NOUN

Pronunciations: IPA: /ˈtaɪ.reɪd/ Glossary-style: [TY-rayd]

Definition: an act of speaking angrily at length abut something (Ex: a tirade about politicias).

Example: I had heard stories from friends about their parents going into tirades when they got bad grades, but my parents never yelled at me; rather, they talked to me about what had happened in class and what I could do to improve.

Discussion: We’ve all heard tirades before, whether in movies, from crazy people wandering the streets railing against unseen villains, or occasionally, from our own parents, as when they lecture us on our failings.

A tirade is simply a bit of speaking that goes on longer than normal and is angry. For example, if someone has kept his emotions bottled up for months but finally loses his temper, he may launch into a tirade, or “lose it”, as we say idiomatically.

Here’s a pretty well-known example from the movie Network (a great movie, by the way) of the star going into a tirade: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMBZDwf9dok

Warning: The language is, while not profane, mature.

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SAT vocabulary: concise

What does concise mean? You’re about to find out!

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word concise

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word concise, try this quick vocab quiz:

concise most nearly means

(A) sharp (B) bitter (C) brief (D) important (E) oily

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: ADJECTIVE

Pronunciations: IPA: /kən.ˈsaɪs/ Glossary-style: [kuhn-SAIS]

Definition: using few words yet still expressing all important information (Ex: a concise description).

Example: Miles was known for being concise; he used few words when expressing himself, and did not particularly enjoy engaging in idle chitchat.

Discussion: My students who know the word concise frequently define it as “short and to the point”, which I suppose works fine for the purposes of most.

But the true essence of the word concise is that it’s not just short, and it’s not just “to the point”, but it’s also not lacking any vital information. We therefore think of concise language as language that is devoid of linguistic fluff or is especially dense.

How about some examples of concise language? Let’s compare pairs, one concise and one not so concise. (In all cases, the shorter version is the more concise one.)

Examples of concise writing or speech
  • Imagine a housemate talking to another. Here are two different ways to express similar ideas:
    • “Did I hear you correctly? That you’re going to the grocery store? Um, if you don’t mind, while you’re at the store, if it’s not too much trouble, do you think you pick up some organic Fuji apples for us? I’d really, really appreciate it. And of course I’d be happy to reimburse you when you get back.” vs.
    • “Oh, you’re going to the store? Could you buy some organic Fuji apples for us? I will pay you back later.”
  • Now imagine a teacher talking to a student. Here are two versions:
    • “Your writing has been improving a lot, but still shows a lot of room for improvement. I can tell that you’re trying really hard, but I can still see a bunch of grammar mistakes here and there that I really think you should try to address as soon as you can before you stop noticing that you’re actually making the errors. Trust me, one day, you’ll be glad you put in the work and improved your writing!” vs.
    • “You continue to make the same grammar mistakes that I’ve pointed out in the past. You’re risking fossilization of these errors. If you don’t heed my advice, you’ll regret not doing so.”
  • And one of my favorites:
    • “If you do things too quickly, you run the risk of making mistakes that you will need to fix later, thus causing you to spend more time than you would have had you taken your time to do things carefully or properly.”
    • “Haste makes waste.”

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SAT vocabulary: retort

What does retort mean? You’re about to find out!

Quick Vocab Quiz for the word retort

First, before you read the explanation, definition, and discussion of the word retort, try this quick vocab quiz:

retort most nearly means

(A) send (B) evade (C) make pure (D) reply (E) steal

(Answer is below.)

Part of Speech: VERB or NOUN

Pronunciations: IPA: /rɪ.ˈtɔrt/ Glossary-style: [rih-TOWRT]

Definition: verb: reply or reply with, especially in a quick, witty, or angry way. make a counterargument or return a comment, insult, or the like. noun: a reply, especially a quick, witty, or angry one that counters something already said.

Example: When people made fun of Henrietta for being short, she always imagined retorting with “I didn’t choose to be short, but you just chose to be rude”, but she politely kept that comment to herself.

Discussion: The word retort can be used as either a verb or a noun, but it seems more common to be used as a verb. Of course, all the usages are related.

All of the usages of the word have in common the sense of responding to something that someone said in a way that is quick, perhaps aggressive, defensive, or witty. In other words, the response is one that’s not entirely expected, and somehow puts the speaker on alert, so to speak.

So, if you make a retort, you may be defending yourself against something that someone said, or you may be insulting someone for a perceived slight. Witty retorts are a staple of comedy, and they often embody what we wish we had said in a certain situation, even if we could think of a witty reply only as we were experiencing esprit de l’escalier, or “staircase wit”.

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