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GRE Vocab Wednesdays | Darkness Descends

Ah yes, autumn. Leaves erupt in dozens of hues, the air is fringed with a chilly bite, and the endless light of summer evenings gives way to darkness. (Please disregard the preceding sentence if you live south of the equator).

In honor of Nyx, the Greek goddess of the night, and Carpo, the Horae of autumn, here are some words with roots that trace back to darkness. Let the darkness descend!

Obscure

This word can mean to literally cover or conceal: “the woman’s face was obscured by the lack of light.” As an adjective, obscure can mean unknown: “he was an obscure actor no one had ever heard about.”

The director’s intentions have always remained obscure, and because he passed away in the last year, we’ll likely never know what he intended the film to mean.

Umbrage

Pronounced um-bridge, as if somebody showed you a picture of bridge and asked you confrontationally, “I bet you can’t say what this is,” this word comes from the Latin for shade. Somewhere in the middle of the previous millennium “to cast shade” on on someone meant to overlook them. Over time this sense of the word took on a more general meaning of feeling as though you’d been insulted or dissed. Today, we typically see umbrage pop up in the phrase, “to take umbrage”, which means to take offense to something.

When his friend said he was a “couch potato,” Harold took umbrage and signed up for a 10 kilometer race the next day.

Adumbrate

This word takes the similar “umbr-” root but means something quite different. To adumbrate is to outline something, such as a plan or a speech. For instance, both presidential hopefuls have adumbrated their economic plans for the country, yet haven’t told us anything very specific. Adumbrate can also mean to foreshadow.

Crepuscular

This is one of my favorite words. Just saying the four syllables — cre-pus-cu-lar — conjures the sound of a foot lightly treading on freshly fallen autumn leaves. I can see myself, in the evening, walking along a path strewn with such leaves. Speaking of the evening time, the sun already set, its last light peeking above the horizon… the adjective crepuscular means just that: resembling or relating to twilight. Granted, it’s not a terribly useful word. But next time it’s getting dark you can add a little flair to your description: Ah, it is time for my crepuscular stroll.

Rarely do nocturnal and diurnal creatures meet, save for a brief moment under a crepuscular sky.

Obfuscatory

If saying crepuscular evokes the very evening the word connotes, obfuscatory has no such elegant connection — it’s just damn fun to say. Ob-FUSC-a-tory. By putting that strong accent on the second syllable, I almost feel like I’m cursing (and as a father of two little children, it’s much better to say this word than some others!). Yet what does this word mean? It comes from the word “obfuscate,” which means to intentionally make something overly complex and difficult to understand. Teachers who don’t quite understand the topic they are teaching might obfuscate to save face. Politicians who can’t think of a graceful lie might obfuscate. As for obfuscatory, it’s just the adjective form of obfuscate. Hopefully, that explanation wasn’t obfuscatory.

The 19th century philosophical text was so steeped in abstruse, dated jargon that even in its more lucid moments it never failed to be obfuscatory.

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