CareerGRE Verbal

Learn GRE Vocabulary through Greek Mythology


The Greek language has had a huge influence on the English language. There are a lot of words that took shape from stories belonging to Greek mythology. Below are six GRE words that have their roots in Greek Mythology!

#1 Procrustean

Procrustes – a smith from the Greek Mythology – was infamous. The story goes like this: Procrustes would invite guests home to rest in his bed. If they didn’t fit the bed – he “made” them fit the bed by either stretching them to make them (the travellers) longer or chopping off their legs to make them shorter! Gruesome – I know!

Therefore, when something is Procrustean, different lengths or sizes or properties are fitted to an arbitrary standard.

For Example: “The would-be critic starts out in life with a sort of Procrustean ideal of measurement, to which everything has to be cut down.” – Hollander, Lee Milton

#2 Narcissism

Narcissus, another figure from the Greek Mythology, was very proud of himself and admired himself excessively. One day while Narcissus was strolling by a pool he noticed his reflection. Seeing his reflection in the pool and realising how attractive he was – he fell in love with himself. He was so transfixed by his own beauty that he grew old and died at the pool, gazing at his own image.

When some one is a Narcissist or someone exhibits the quality of Narcissism- he or she has an excessively grandiose view of oneself; they also admire themselves (physical or otherwise) excessively.

Don’t confuse this with the feeling of self-worth or love. Narcissists don’t just like themselves, they love themselves above everything else: they are obsessed with themselves.

For Example: “Lily remains a dedicated narcissist, addicted to face-lifts and a number of self-gratifying social causes”.

#3 Herculean

Hercules was a Greek Hero and the son of Zeus. He was famed for his superhuman strength and ability to achieve feats that were almost impossible. Hercules is well known for his adventures – the most well known are the “12 Labours” which required Hercules to accomplish 12 almost impossible tasks.

The word ‘herculean’ means exactly this; it suggests that something requires a great amount of strength and effort to accomplish.

For Example:“Any effort to remove the non-native rainbow and brown trout in these areas would be “nearly impossible – Herculean, expensive, and unpopular,” Kumlein said”

#4 Bacchanal

Bacchus, was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. He was associated with unrestrained celebrations and revelries. Therefore, when a celebration (a party) goes wild with different kinds of promiscuities it’s a bacchanal.

For Example: “Based on Belfort’s memoir about his evolution from penny-stock peddler to millionaire trader, Scorsese’s adaptation is a capitalist critique in the form of a bacchanal.”-  About the movie “The Wolves of Wall’s Street”

#5 Mercurial

The god ‘Mercury’, also called Hermes, was a messenger god. The planet Mercury was named after him. What’s peculiar about Mercury is that the temperatures in this planet undergo extreme changes very frequently : it reaches about -200°C during the night and goes up above 400°C during the day!

When someone is subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind – he/she is Mercurial.

For Example: “Mr. Sadr, 40, a somewhat mercurial figure, has made such announcements before and then has changed his mind.”

#6 Plutocracy

Pluto, also called Hades, was god of the underworld. There were two popular attributes to the underworld:

1. Place where bad people went after they died.

2. Place where all the precious stones could be found.

Therefore Pluto, as a god, was the god of hell as well as the god of riches. As a result the root pluto- could be used to mean either “hell like” or “wealth”. In the case of the word ‘plutocracy’, the root uses the latter meaning.

Plutocracy is therefore a political scenario in which the rich and powerful have control over the masses.

For Example:“A progressive tax system should maintain or reduce income inequality so that our society is more of a meritocracy than a plutocracy.”

Want to know more about word roots? Read this blog about etymology to know more.

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Would you like to learn more words the fun way? Check out our flashcards, tailored for the Indian test-taker!