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February 6, 2003

Exasperate, exacerbate
Posted by Teresa at 04:50 PM *

Peter Schmies’s Word Classification Test is a new one on me. You’re given 200 pairs of words and asked to judge whether the meanings of the two words in each set are the opposite or the same. It’s entertainingly tough; fuliginous, brilliant was one of the easier ones. (via Erik Olson)

Comments on Exasperate, exacerbate:
#1 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 06:33 PM:

If you still hung around rec.arts.sf.composition, you'd have see this weeks ago :)

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 06:38 PM:

I'm sure you're right, Steve; but let us contemplate the phrase, in my copious spare time.

#3 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 07:03 PM:

Okay, so that was one of the easier questions -- but only because of Gene Wolfe.

I wish there were more tests like this in general life, because my brobdingnagian (thanks, David Brin!) vocabulary is one of my strongest points. Even if it does all come from science fiction.

#4 ::: Trent Goulding ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 07:33 PM:

I was going to make the same observation about fuliginous: thank you, Gene Wolfe. There were some reasonably tough pairings on the list, though, particularly if one's Latin and Greek roots are not all that they should be.

#5 ::: Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 09:29 PM:

Twelve of my nineteen wild guesses were wrong. I'm clearly a really bad guesser.

Some pairings seem quite strange to me, eg, exasperate and exacerbate. Possibly I should more thoroughly regret that my thesaurus is a long way away.

#6 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2003, 10:20 PM:

Speaking of fuligin.

#7 ::: Vera ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 12:03 AM:

Hmm, took the test, scored 158 out of 200, which I suppose is average to okay....

Noticed a weird tendency to knee-jerk click on selections that were the opposite of what I wanted, when going too fast. So, possibly could have gained/lost about 10 points either way through such mistakes.

This was fun!



#8 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 01:52 AM:

I got 177 of 200; Jordin got 174. I'm curious Teresa: what did you and Patrick score?


#9 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 05:01 AM:

I got 188 and I'm still furious becaseu I really thought I had only got five wrong/guessed.

#10 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 07:50 AM:

As I took the test, I lept feeling like I'd seen these words in a John Clute essay at some point.

#11 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 08:42 AM:

"kept," not "lept"

#12 ::: Dave Hemming ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 09:00 AM:

My brain hurts. I thought I had a large vocabulary, but it turns out that all this time I've been working entirely from context.
And my latin and greek roots kinda suck, too.

#13 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 09:12 AM:

I got 185 out of 200; my Latin roots are okay but my Greek ones are not-so-hot.

Having a trick memory for quotes and context helps.

#14 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 11:02 AM:

183. I'd like to second Dr. Doyle's comments and thank Dr. Stephen Maturin for inspissate.

Now I'm going to try to find a way to use the words contango and backwardation in a sentence.

#15 ::: Pamela Dean ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 12:32 PM:

I'd have fatally missed "gumption," which I was quite sure meant "boldness," only I had just seen a production of MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION in which Mrs. Warren observes to her daughter, "I'd have expected you to have the gumption to know that I was arriving by the 3:10." Thank you, GBS.

I got 180. Supposing my memory of the test to magically have been wiped, I am not sure I could do that again. I did guess.


#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 12:41 PM:

I too can thank Dr. Maturin for inspissate (and Gene Wolfe for fuliginous), but on that pair I fell afoul of the same error Vera describes.

We got 185. I don't think we got a lot of benefit out of taking it together. And -- this is a petty descent into special pleading -- I don't think that compendious and extended are more logically opposed than they are similar.

It was great fun. Imagine me standing behind Patrick at his desk, while we say things like "Poikilo-, poikilo-, oh shoot I know that one, dammit..."

And yes, Kathryn, John Clute was invoked. I think it was when we got to haptic, tactile.

#17 ::: Janice ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 12:57 PM:

179 here, a little better than I expected. I was bemused by the way the questions ranged from the really obvious (energetic/zippy) to the totally (to me) opaque (telamones/atlantes).

I too owe inspissate to the good Dr. Maturin, as well as rebarbative (I think).

Off to the dictionary to learn more words. Thanks for the link!

#18 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 01:39 PM:
I'd have fatally missed "gumption," which I was quite sure meant "boldness" ...
This was a subject of discussion on rasfc - there appears to be a fairly distinct US/UK split on the meaning of this (surprise), with the US leaning more towards "boldness" or "guts" and the UK towards "common sense" or something like that.
#19 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 01:47 PM:

I got 164, which is a little sad, but just convinces me I need to read more mythology to brush up on the Greek roots.

I've never heard the word "gumption" used outside of the "boldness" context, where it means something like "guts and stubborness, combined with perhaps a slight dose of being knocked upside the head while young."
It might be like an across-the-pond Pop vs. Soda phenomenon.

#20 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 03:05 PM:

193 (that's why they call me LH). But I'm not happy with their "fifth columnist - collaborationist" pair; I know perfectly well what each means but still got it "wrong" (after agonizing for a bit) because I decided a fifth columnist was opposing the people in power while a collabo was supporting them. However you look at it, I think it's too ambiguous to be a useful entry. (And what's up with "trefa"? "Treif," "treyf," whatever, but "trefa"??) Overall, however, a wonderful link which I am about to steal for Languagehat!

#21 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 04:13 PM:

Thank God! If Language Hat can make that mistake, I feel so much better...

#22 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 04:23 PM:

"164, which is a little sad".

According to the intro text on that site, 165 is at the 99.9th percentile of general adult population. If falling into the top tenth of one percent counts as unfortunate for you, then you're probably in favor of Bush's tax plan.

#23 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 05:57 PM:

Language Hat, I took trefa to be an ordinary typo for traef — the first spelling of the word that I ever encountered.

In, I should say, Greg Bear's The Serpent Mage.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 06:54 PM:

Emma, I think it takes the finely-honed linguistic sensibilities of someone like Language Hat to make a mistake like that.

LH: "arcane and daedal," yes! ... I don't suppose you collect antonyms?

#25 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 08:06 PM:

171 -- had the same problem with "fifth columnist" and collaborationist as LH, I'm pleased to say, and took "gumption" as "courage" or "guts," fell prey to the same error of incorrect selection as Vera.

Webster's 1913 (via agrees with the test author and defines "compendious" as "Containing the substance or general principles of a subject or work in a narrow compass; abridged; summarized," so I suppose that a compendium is comprehensive but compressed and antonymical with "extended."

The dictionaries don't have "trefa," but present "terefah" (defined in WordNet) as a synonym for tref/treyf.

I have such a strong OmniDictionary habit that it was hard to keep my hands from automatically popping it up and cheating on the test. 171 was an honest best effort while in a hurry, and not bad for an engineer.

#26 ::: Kate Yule ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 08:51 PM:

Hum. 159 out of 200 correct, with 21 questions unanswered. Extra points for Knowing One's Limits?

Half a dozen of my "wrong" answers were in fact slips of the mouse -- I do indeed know the difference between kosher and treyf, however spelt -- but I assume a comparable number fell the other way, too, crediting me with undeserved wisdom.

Did anyone else detect a tendency towards polysyllables after undergoing this examination?

Perhaps I haven't yet hit the Aubrey/Maturin book with inspissate. I'm in no particular hurry to come to the end of them.

#27 ::: Trent Goulding ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 09:01 PM:

I have Dr. Maturin to thank, not only for inspissate, but also for altricial and mephitic (and probably a couple others I'm forgetting). In fact, that was one of the little fist-pumping frissons of the exercise, running across those words and thinking, "yes! I knew learning those words would come in useful one day" ...for rather arcane values of useful, admittedly, but still....

Oh, and I join the muttering about fifth column and collaberationist.

#28 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2003, 09:18 PM:

174. Not bad. I'm with Languagehat (and everyone else, it seems) on the fifth columnist/collabo thing. I pondered it, then decided they must mean the opposite.

I had fun taking the test. There must be something very, very wrong with me. :-)

#29 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 01:31 AM:

168 here. Did OK on the Latin end, but don't know enough Greek.

#30 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 02:24 AM:

162 out of 200. I expected better, but I shouldn't be surprised. I have very little Greek, and my Latin is all tenth grade prefixes and suffixes. My best friend and I decided to make up our own words by smashing our Latin roots together. was a fear of large (weighty) breasts. And doxipelliphobia was a fear of driver's ed teachers--which in turn lead to doxipellicide, the killing of driver's ed teachers.

I obviously need to go back to reading that Reader's Digest Feature on improving your word power. Sigh.

#31 ::: catie murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 03:24 AM:

I got 157, which makes me cringe with embarrassment. Obviously, if 165 is 99.9th percentile, I'm not really doing all that badly, but I still thought a number of the matches weren't very good opposites or similars. Hnf. :)

#32 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 11:42 AM:

176, and I agree with Teresa about compendious and extended.

In my youth I kept hearing people telling me I didn't have "gumption," by which they appeared to mean some combination of courage and stick-to-it-iveness. I was recently surprised to learn that it was supposed to be common sense. I still don't have it.

#33 ::: Chip Hitchcock ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 03:44 PM:

186 -- 10 of the errors were among 27 guesses (some of them less wild than others). Is a collaborationist really the opposite of a collaborator?

I guess our hosts remember Wolfe better than Ballard; I took a couple of years of bio but knew XxxThermic from the "poikilochronistic jungle" in I-forget-which story. And the only reason I knew "pyknic" was from Leiber's contrasting it with "asthenic" in describing the physiotypes of the Sackabonds in A Specter Is Haunting Texas.

My favorite: fluvial/potamic; possibly Flanders and Swann were what reminded me of the literal meaning of "hippopotamus". I'll have to see how my sister-with-the-classical-diploma does on this....

Definitely fun. Thanks!

#34 ::: Leslie Turek ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 04:29 PM:

I got 175, which isn't too bad for a computer geek, I would say. Although after going through this test, I'm beginning to think that English has more words than it really needs. ;-)

#35 ::: Linne9a Anglemark ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 04:38 PM:

177, and I'm definitely satisfied with that, seeing as it's not my native language. And I enlarged my vocabulary a bit, too.

#36 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2003, 05:51 PM:

Thanks muchly -- that was fun. ("Potamic" goes straight onto the word list.) And a 179 was a nice little ego boost after a wild week . . .

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2003, 09:16 AM:

THAT'S IT! Thank you, Chip! I knew I'd gotten pyknic from Leiber, but I couldn't remember where.

Poikilothermic, yes, of course. For the last ... um, I'm not sure how long, I've been losing words. You can imagine how vexing that is. (My writing speed is dropping, too. If I didn't have such a curtailed attention span, I'd be seriously worried.) This isn't just the tardy memory access of middle age. I lose words progressively during the day, starting each morning with my head full of them; then by late afternoon, the edifice of language has more gaps in it than bricks. Patrick and I took the test at the end of a workday, and poikilo- had fallen through one of the gaps. Thus my frustration.

You're also right about me and Ballard. He doesn't engage my imagination the way Wolfe does. Wolfe's city of Nessus, for instance; it sat quietly in the back of my mind until I went to Rome, when it unfolded in a useful burst of light. Nessus showed me Rome, and Rome showed me Nessus. Without that, the city would have been like New York or the Grand Canyon: a thing whose nature and magnitude you can't take in until it's had some time to sort itself out in your head -- and I didn't have that much time there.

So pin this one up in the gallery of unusable quotes: The Book of the New Sun was every bit as illuminating as my Rough Guide and my phrasebook.

#38 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2003, 12:12 PM:

Yes, feeling bad about falling too low in the 99th percentile group. That's pretty familiar. I sometimes think that we gather together in groups like this just so we can feel normal. I feel dumb having found telamones/atlantes opaque since they're both male caryatids and I surely ought to have known that. Somehow the plurals made it harder (as versus an atlas/telamon). I made 178 overall, with a surprisingly high percentage of correct hairy-ass guesses. On the other hand, I owe to Anne Fadiman having known "mephitic" (also "retromingent" and "camorra," though these, alas, did not come into play) from one of her essays in the lovely and eminently readable EX LIBRIS. Anyone reading this particular comment thread should almost certainly rush out and get a copy. Act now, and so forth. Easily worth it for the anectdote about the birthday cake with the superfluous apostrophe all on its own; also the essay about merging her book collection with her husband's. As it is, I think I will see if I can't dig up Ms. Fadiman's e-mail address so I can send her this quiz since I suspect it would be just her sort of thing.

#39 ::: charlie b. ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2003, 02:14 PM:

185. No wild guesses, but some rather hopeful derivations. Everyone here reports some splendid scores, which suggests this is the most verbally brilliant readership of any blog, or that those who got 101 or 79 just haven't owned up and think the whole thing is stupid. I side with those who feel there is little difference between compendious and extended. As far as "fifth columnist" and "collaborationst" goes, I think the points people have made are valid. I see the similarity residing in the motivation (treachery or betrayal, and less strongly, the method (dissimulation, ambiguity, secrecy). I have stolen the link for my blog.

#40 ::: Blue Witch ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2003, 12:36 PM:

Great link.


Are you publishing lie detector tests tomorrow? ;)

And, don't read too much into this folks, vocabulary tests are not a reliable, or valid, single measure of IQ.

Well, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking with it :)

#41 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2003, 01:20 PM:

Blue Witch, I see no reason to doubt any of them; nor has anyone suggested that this constitutes a valid IQ test.

#42 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2003, 06:34 PM:

nor has anyone suggested that this constitutes a valid IQ test.

Aieeee (I'm saying that a lot today -- it's been one of those days)

Avert! Avert! Danger Will Robinson! Danger! Danger!

IQ Tests and validity are not words to use in the same sentence. Or even the same post.


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