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GRE Vocab Wednesday: “Who are These People?”

We all belong to some group. Perhaps it’s the weekly soccer team for over-40 dads, the scrabble aficionado club that “squares off” at the local Starbucks, or the GRE superfans group on FB (not at all likely—wink, wink), working hard to improve their AWA writing scores. Then there are some groups that you are clearly not a part of: the dumpster archaeologist club of Lower Manhattan or the actual Facebook group “Accomplishing Something Before the Microwave Reaches :00”.

But I’m guessing you might belong to at least one of the following.


I often recommend that people read, which stands for Arts & Letters Daily. This site curates prose from the leading intellectuals of our time, those who shape public opinion in the intellectual area, be they philosophers, economist, musicologist, or physicists. This is the intelligentsia. When I say European intelligentsia of the 19th century, who comes to mind? Marx, Freud (at least the tail end), Nietzsche, Darwin. In Darwin’s case, it was more of a posthumous inclusion.


The cog- root should give away that this also has something to do with thinking. In this sense, it is less intellectual and more about connoisseurship. The cognoscenti are those who are well-versed in a very specific field. Perhaps you are part of the cheese cognoscenti and travel to the northern reaches of Norway for some choice Jarlsberg or to sun-scorched Sevilla for some 2-year aged Manchego. Or maybe, if you are a GRE Vocab Wednesday fan, you have become a cognoscenti of vocabulary. In which case, you might have become a cognoscenti of my cheesy humor (hopefully not!).


Though this might sound like an evangelical denomination somewhere between Episcopalian and Presbyterian (that’s actually the Unitarians), utilitarians are those who believe that an action can be deemed “right” if it benefits a large number of people. For instance, monarchical reigns do not sit well with utilitarians. It’s not surprising that utilitarianism popped up in the early 19th century in the wake of the French and American Revolutions.

Interestingly, utilitarian—just the adjective—takes on a different tinge. Something that is utilitarian is known for being practical/useful. Versailles is the antithesis of utilitarian. A concrete building in downtown Manhattan, replete with cubicle stuffed offices, would be more of a utilitarian affair.

Hoi Polloi

Nope, that’s neither an egregious typo nor the latest Pokemon. Hoi Polloi comes from Ancient Greek, and means ‘the people’. The connotation is somewhat pejorative. We typically use the less tongue-twisty phrase the “unwashed masses.” Don’t take offense though. Depending on the context, any of us can be part of the hoi polloi. When politicians look out into the great multitude of faces, they might likely consider us—or at least someone outside of government—part of the hoi polloi. When I take public transportation, people likely see me as one of the masses (but I promise, I wash).


Can’t wait for the weekly installment of the New York Book Review? Do you think Michio Kaku of the New York Times is actually seated in the firmament proclaiming, for eternity, the inherent worth of the latest novel? Do you have any idea whom I’m talking about? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then you are likely part of the literati, those who are intensely curious about literature.

Interestingly, the word glitterati is a portmanteau of this word, combining ‘glitter’ and ‘literati’ . The glitterati is made up of famous celebrities, like those who gather on the red carpet every winter to watch their cohorts shed tears as someone hands them a golden statue. Could it be that, somewhere out there, one of the glitterati is actually reading this post? Well, I’m guessing some of the literati might be giving this a peek (I apologize for any typos and awkward syntactical collocations—including those last three words).

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