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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Santa vs The Grinch

Yes, it is that time of the year, in which Christmas carols are ubiquitous, public trees are festooned in lights, and the shops are filled with customers looking for a bargain. Whether you embrace the holidays with the jollity of Santa or shun it with the vitriol of the Grinch.

The Grinch, for those who do not know, is a Dr. Seuss creation. The whimsical author conjured up a green-eared, wizened creature to embody all that misanthropic fervor that permeates the holiday season. Yes, I’m talking about those who, no matter how festive everyone around them is, finds something to carp about.

Below are words from both sides of the spectrum—words to describe the Grinch and words to describe Santa.



Somebody who tends to shun other people’s company because he dislikes everyone is known as a misanthrope. The Grinch is the classic misanthrope. Or is he? I think there is an even more archetypal misanthrope in literature: Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol. So if you know of that reclusive uncle begrudgingly attending Christmas dinner, you have a word for him. Just don’t let it slip when you are three drinks deep into the eggnog.



Speaking of someone likely to say “bah-humbug” (like Scrooge) or try to ruin everybody else’s Christmas (like The Grinch), we have the perfect word: curmudgeon. A curmudgeon is an unpleasant and irritable person, regardless or whether it is the holidays or not. Of course, many Grinch-types will claim that the holiday season brings out their inner curmudgeons.



Whenever I see Santa, he has ruddy cheeks and a smile. The word sanguine came from medieval thought, which postulated that the body was comprised of different humors, or liquids that cause us to feel a certain mood. Apparently, if you had a lot of blood in your cheeks, you were happy. Sanguine, which comes from the Latin for blood, meant happy, since it described those red cheeks. Speaking of ruddy cheeks, have you ever seen a Santa who wasn’t looking sanguine?

Today the meaning of sanguine isn’t happy per se, but cheerfully optimistic. Let’s say you’re sanguine about receiving many gifts this year. That means you are smiling, thinking of all those wonderful presents you are going to get. Just don’t let too much blood flow to your cheeks, or you may pass out.



It’s rare that you’ll see Santa depicted on-screen without a large smile plastered on his ruddy cheeks. And that’s a perfect way to describe jovial. Happy and cheerful. The backstory on jovial is even more interesting. Apparently those born under the sign of Jupiter were thought to be happy. What’s the connection? Well, Jove was the Latin name for Jupiter.



If you’ve ever sat on Santa’s lap (and I’m assuming it’s at least been a few decades), you’ll remember a fun-loving guy, who made you smile and promised you all these wonderful presents. Of course, it was probably some guy named Larry who worked at the hardware store. But that playfulness and humor radiated by the Santa is perfectly captured by the word “jocose”. An easy way to remember jocose is to think of “joke”. Indeed the first syllable of jocose sounds exactly like joke.


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2 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Santa vs The Grinch

  1. Yuri Pavlov January 20, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    Chris, your articles warm my soul every time. ) Thanks for your articles–they are so helpful!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele January 23, 2014 at 10:54 am #

      Hi Yuri,

      Thanks for your kind words :). It gives great joy to be able to reach many people with my videos.

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