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GRE Vocab Wednesday: What’s in a Name?

In a quirk of the English language, common people’s names have made it into some vocabulary words. Such names as vocabulary words is mostly coincidence, meaning that there was no pope named Gregory the something or other who loved being around other people (hence the word ‘gregarious).

Nonetheless, we do not always perceive the associations as arbitrary. Indeed, you may know an Amy who is very friendly, a Hector who likes to intimidate others, or a Dolores who is often depressed (though I’m guessing any Sally who rushes forth attacking isn’t somebody we know—or would want to know). So hopefully the words you know are consistent with somebody you know who happens to bear that name.



To be amiable is to be friendly, easy to get along with. Though the word is not spelled Amyable, phonetically the first two syllables sound like the common name Amy (well, common in America at least). If you know an Amy and she is amiable, you have a great mnemonic. If she is surly, then you might have to fish around for a different Amy—maybe an actress or a fictional character.



Grex- is the Latin for flock. To be gregarious is to be flocking. That does not mean that you hang out with sheep. Rather, a gregarious person tends to flock to groups of people. He or she is sociable and, when surrounded by people, tends to have a flocking good time.

Greg- also pops up in other words, such as congregation, which means a meeting of large group of people.



Dolorous, which means sad and mournful, interestingly comes from the Latin dolor, meaning pain (there is even a device called a ‘dolorimeter’, which measures pain sensitivity). Not too common of a GRE word, and one usually employed in a poetic vein, dolorous should be very easy to remember if you remember a Dolores with a gloomy disposition.



In Homer’s Iliad, Hector is a giant of a man, with a temper to match his physical proportions. He intimidates his men, excoriating them for the slightest misstep. It takes the mighty Achilles, half-god, half-men (but more familiar to movie going audiences as Brad Pitt) to fell the mighty Hector. Today, the word hector simply means to intimidate and bully (you don’t necessarily need to be big – though it helps).



I’m not sure why but the name Sally conjures up the image of a bucolic gal from the mid-West. The definition of sally is very different: a sudden military attack or sortie. Sally can also mean any sudden movement from one place to another, as in:

He sallied forth, leaving the encampment and hoping to make the next settlement by nightfall.

As far as GRE and sallying forth go, we have just released our really cool Ultimate Guide to the GRE.

So as you sally forth on your GRE prep, the ultimate guide is a great place to start.


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