Columbus Day: Vocabulary in Context Exercise

In commemoration of Columbus Day, I’ve written a few paragraphs. See if you can pick up on the meaning of the words from the way they are used in context. Below them, you will find the actual definitions of the vocabulary words.

Columbus Day:

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When I was a wee lad – it’s been a few good decades now – I remember Columbus Day as a special time, one in which teachers would sit our class down and regale us about an intrepid voyager named Christopher Columbus. Staving off a mutinous crew and roiling ocean currents, Columbus eventually landed in the New World, or as my teachers facilely put it, “Discovered America.” My first-grade class would then color pictures of Columbus and his men sitting down amiably with the indigenous people. Oh, what halcyon, idyllic days these were.

Over the years, Columbus Day, and by extension the exploits of Christopher Columbus, has shed these Elysian scenes and has become politically charged. Many scholars launched into polemics claiming that, far from discovering America, Columbus and his men enslaved the indigenous population. This backbreaking labor combined with a smallpox epidemic decimated the native population.

In a final twist, Columbus hadn’t technically even discovered America. Instead, he had landed on the island of Hispaniola, which today is split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Today many still celebrate Columbus Day, as it allows them to note the founding of the U.S., despite the events’ sordid origins. Nonetheless, very few today see Columbus’ landing as one ushering in a time of peace and prosperity. Indeed, I think the days are long gone in which schoolchildren blithely colored pictures of Europeans and Native Americans contentedly breaking bread. They will have to wait for Thanksgiving for that.



  • Intrepid – fearless
  • Mutinous – rebelling, usually used for sailors or soldiers
  • Facile– explained in a superficial way that lacks depth
  • Indigenous – existing in a place
  • Halcyon – serene, calm
  • Idyllic – very happy, usually describes a time or place
  • Exploit – deed or feat
  • Elysian – resembling paradise
  • Polemics – strong attack, usually against a controversial issue
  • Decimated – to kill off the majority of
  • Sordid – unpleasant, usually refers to details
  • Blithely – carefree



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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

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