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

Utopian for Beginners: An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented
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 Magoosh 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! 🙂


By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

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

  1. Mishti August 23, 2015 at 12:50 am #

    Hi Chris,

    First of all, I am a big fan of Magoosh. I had been thinking of giving GRE for some time around but never actually started my preparations until last week. But all the while, I used to check upon your blog ofttimes for tips and familiarity with the test. And so, when I finally commenced my preparations, I was already knowing the dos and do nots, thanks to Magoosh.

    Coming back to the article. I have recently started with your gre article of the month round up and I must say that it has really been an enthralling journey. Before starting with any article, I usually make up mind that I am in love with the topic and there’s nothing else in the world that I would want to do at the moment rather than reading the article. Works for me and now I can read more often.

    I am trying hard to adhere to my study plan. I started with being a complete noob in verbal but with practice, I realized that its not difficult to get hold of the words and the techniques. However, its getting hard for me to stick to any wordlist. Say, I take up some word list and start going by it. I use dictionary, wordnik, etymology, mnemonics and everything I could to retain this word and add it up on my own word list to revise later on. Now, while reading some article, I again find a galore of words staring right at me and I end up adding them to my word list. This goes on and ultimately, I find myself overwhelmed by the abounding words and completely digressed from where I actually started. I have 2-3 weeks left for my GRE and I am afraid that no doubt, I will be acquainted with some decent vocabulary by the end of it, but I might just be focusing on the words not required for gre.

    So, should I just focus my attention to a single word list (Magoosh/Barron) and read less ( because that way I can’t help but look up each and every word) or go on like this only. But again, though I have started to read a lot, I am still scared of RCs. 🙁

    Also, I was searching for a forum on this site but couldn’t find one. Though you reply on most of the comments and that’s great by the way. But I feel that the comments are dispersed indiscriminately and its hard to search for what exactly you are looking for. Would love to have that feature on the site. 🙂


  2. Nick June 2, 2015 at 8:48 pm #

    Day 2 of 30, this article is going to take a couple of days to get through. Another great find as it is surely testing my reading endurance, which is quite faint at the moment.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 3, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

      Yes, this one is much longer and can get quite thick at times with all the talk on linguistics. But the writer is curiosity for the topic is contagious and his adventures (or misadventures) are amusing :).

      Good to see you are still on your 30-day quest 🙂

  3. Dee November 25, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    This piece in The New Yorker was great reading material. It shows how something as trivial as a man’s hobby can have such far reaching consequences on the other side of the world. I am amazed that this actually happened since it really reads like science fiction. Imagine conjuring up words in your pastime and then realizing you may have created an actual superhero!

    Even though the article has a lot of technical information, the emotional aspect was never lost. I could taste the disappointment when Quijada had to drop out of school, and feel his part pride part bewilderment at being an idol to students in a nation he had never heard of before. And above all, I felt disappointed too on learning the true intentions behind the accolades and the all-expenses-paid trips. It truly hurts when you realize that something that is too good to be true is indeed exactly that. But this is not to say that it was all melancholic, I chuckled when Quijada’s boss asked him if he was a con man 🙂

    For someone who is trying to decide if they really want to wade through 10 pages of esoteric material about arcane languages, do give it a try. Hey, it’s not all Greek and Latin out there. In addition to the popular Klingon and Dothraki, there’s Guguu Yimithirr and Láadan. Who knew?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks Dee for the thoughts!

      Your words bring back memories of this article–I think I’ll read it again :). I’m actually still fishing around for the article of the month for Nov. It’s been slim pickings this month. I hope to find an article sweeps me off my feet, the way that Foer’s did for both of us.

  4. Julius August 25, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    I finished page 1 and then realized that it’s a 10 page article..

  5. emma April 24, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    When I read an article from The New Yorker or on NY Times, after I point due to its length and several transformations incorporated; I kinda lose focus as well as interest. Can you please help me to overcome this shortcoming of mine?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 24, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

      Hi Emma,

      It’s tough – reading non-stop. I actually encourage you to take a short break after about 15 minutes reading. Grab a snack, drink something and then come back to the piece. Halfway through take a much longer break. Let the article incubate for a little while. Come back to it later in the day, maybe even the next day. Getting through an article this way allows your brain to digest a few pieces at a time. These articles are dense. Even breaking it up this way will help your reading endurance on the GRE.

      Hope that helps get you out of the reading doldrums :)!

  6. Anshima January 22, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    Hey Chris

    I must say you are doing an awesome job. I follow this blog regularly 🙂 .

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 23, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      Thanks for the kudos! :).

  7. Maria January 15, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Hi Chris,

    GRE has always scared me, i delayed taking it for a good year until my friend referred me to your site, and by God it is amazing. I love the work you are doing for others. commendable indeed.
    I intend to give my GRE this March, got the courage to do so only after getting hooked to Magoosh.
    Thanks a lot for all your help!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

      Wow, that is sooo awesome to hear :).

      It is great to hear back that we are doing work here that goes beyond just the instructional aspect of the GRE. I hope our blog continues to inspire you throughout your GRE studies :).

      Good luck in March, and let me know if you every have any questions!

  8. Anurag January 15, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Hi..I love your Blog

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 15, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

      Great! I am happy you are enjoying it :).

  9. taru January 12, 2013 at 1:35 am #

    Hey Chris

    Reading ur blogs have given a new dimension to my gre looks a fantastic opportunity to update ourselves with new gre per ur advice I have purchased Manhattan for maths n counting on barron’s for TC n SE.I had Kaplan n Princeton tl had completed only the bookish part tl nw.I intend to finish Manhattan as my maths is still god’s grace my appointment dt ws due on 13th march gt postponed bcz of technical issues at the centre.thank u so much for ur guidance.m deeply indebted as I ws directionless.i’ll go thru the article n update u.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 14, 2013 at 11:57 am #

      You are welcome :).

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