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TOEFL Preparation: Lesson 38 - The Written Word

Target Words

1. advent

2. ambiguous

3. connotation

4. decipher

5. denote

6. illiterate

7. ingenious

8. inscription

9. phonetic

10. symbolic

Definitions and Samples

1. advent n. Coming; arrival

The advent of the automobile greatly increased the demand for petroleum.

Usage tips Advent is usually followed by an of phrase.

2. ambiguous adj. Having more than one possible meaning

The sentence "It’s hard to say" is ambiguous, with different meanings in different contexts. Parts of speech ambiguity n, ambiguously adv

3. connotation n. A meaning implied, not stated directly

When my boss says, “Thank you,” the connotation is that she’s done talking and I should leave.

Parts of speech connote v

4. decipher v. To figure out the meaning, even though it is written in a code or an unknown language

The Rosetta Stone helped archaeologists decipher ancient Egyptian writing.

Usage tips A cipher is a code or puzzle; decipher means “solve a puzzle written in code.”

5. denote v. To mean something clearly and directly

An “X” next to a name on this list denotes a person who has been chosen for the soccer team.

Parts of speech denotation n

6. illiterate adj. Unable to read

In many villages nearly everyone was illiterate and unschooled, and the few who could read held great power.

Parts of speech illiterate n, illiteracy n

7. ingenious adj. Very clever and imaginative

Ann thought up an ingenious way to keep other people from accidentally taking her pens. Parts of speech ingenuity n, ingeniously adv

8. inscription n. Something written into a piece of rock or metal

The inscription on my ring says “August 1,” because that was the day of our wedding.

Parts of speech inscribe v

9. phonetic adj. Related to the sounds in a language

Children learning to write often make up phonetic spellings, based on the way a word sounds.

Parts of speech phonetics n, phonetically adv

10. symbolic adj. Acting as a sign for some other thing or idea

Since the 1970s, yellow ribbons have been symbolic of hope that someone will return from a dangerous situation.

Usage tips Symbolic is often followed by an of phrase indicating the meaning of a symbol. Parts of speech symbolize v, symbol n, symbolically adv


Find the word or phrase that is closest in meaning to each word in the left-hand column.

1. advent (a) approach or arrival

2. decipher (b) newly invented in a clever way

3. ingenious (c) to figure out the meaning

4. inscription (d) related to spoken sounds

5. phonetic (e) something written into a hard surface


Complete each sentence by filling in the blank with the best word from the list. Change the form of the word if necessary. Use each word only once.

ambiguous connotation denote illiterate symbolic

1. If my father told me to be quiet, the __________ was “I have a headache.”

2. The president’s response, “Wait and see,” was __________, meaning that perhaps he would take action, perhaps not.

3. In English writing, a mark called an apostrophe usually __________ a missing letter, as in isn’t for is not.

4. A circle with a plus attached (U) is __________ of “woman” and of the planet Venus.

5. Farley was a poor, __________ boy from a remote area who later taught himself to read and write. 188 Culture

TOEFL Success

Read the passage to review the vocabulary you have learned.

Answer the questions that follow.

Johannes Gutenberg’s ingenious use of movable type in his printing press had a wide range of effects on European societies. Most obviously, readers no longer had to decipher odd handwriting, with ambiguous lettering, in order to read a written work. Gutenberg gave each letter standard forms, a move that had connotations far beyond the printing business. The inscriptions on tombstones and roadside mileposts, for example, could now be standardized. The cost of books decreased. Even illiterate people benefited indirectly from the advent of this invention, as the general level of information in society increased. However, Gutenberg’s press was of limited use for languages that used picture-like symbols for writing instead of a phonetic system. Systems of symbolic pictographs, each of which denotes a word, require many thousands of characters to be cast into lead type by the printer. Phonetic systems, like the Latin alphabet, use the same few characters, recombined in thousands of ways to make different words.

Bonus Structure— Most obviously introduces an easy-to-see effect and implies that less clear effects will come later.

1. According to this reading, how did the invention of the printing press benefit illiterate people?

a. It helped them learn to read.

b. It raised the level of information in a society.

c. It lowered the cost of books.

d. It saved them from having to read ambiguous handwriting.

2. Why was Gutenberg’s press not very practical for languages that use picture-like symbols?

a. because character-based languages are made of pictographs

b. because phonetic alphabets are clearer

c. because there are too many characters to make movable type for each one

d. because Gutenberg was European, so he didn’t know any character based languages The Written Word 189

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