SAT Critical Reading : Context-Dependent Meaning of Words in Social Science / History Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

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Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from "Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft" by George Eliot (1855)

There is a notion commonly entertained among men that an instructed woman, capable of having opinions, is likely to prove an unpractical yoke-fellow, always pulling one way when her husband wants to go the other, oracular in tone, and prone to give lectures. But surely, so far as obstinacy is concerned, your unreasoning animal is the most difficult of your creatures. For our own parts, we see no reason why women should be better kept under control rather than educated to be mans rational equal.  

If you ask me what offices women may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will. I do not doubt there are women well fitted for such an office, and, if so, I should be glad to welcome the Maid of Saragossa. I think women need, especially at this juncture, a much greater range of occupation than they have, to rouse their latent powers. In families that I know, some little girls like to saw wood, and others to use carpenters' tools. Where these tastes are indulged, cheerfulness and good-humor are promoted. Where they are forbidden, because "such things are not proper for girls," they grow sullen and mischievous.

Men pay a heavy price for their reluctance to encourage self-help and independent resources in women. The precious meridian years of many a man of genius have to be spent in the toil of routine, that an "establishment" may be kept up for a woman who can understand none of his secret yearnings, who is fit for nothing but to sit in her drawing-room like a doll-Madonna in her shrine. No matter. Anything is more endurable than to change our established formulae about women, or to run the risk of looking up to our wives instead of looking down on them. So men say of women, let them be idols, useless absorbents of previous things, provided we are not obliged to admit them to be strictly fellow-beings, to be treated, one and all, with justice and sober reverence.

The word “entertained” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

considered

amused

disturbing

diverting

revered

Correct answer:

considered

Explanation:

The primary meaning of the word “entertain” is amuse or engage, but from the context of the sentence, you know that a secondary meaning of the word must be being used here. The sentence begins by stating that there is a common male notion of why women should not be educated. If you replace “entertained” with either "amused" or "disturbing," neither word comfortably fits. "Diverting" means distracting, and "revered" means respected; neither of these words could fit within the context. "Considered," which means gave something thought, is an easy fit and is a secondary meaning of the word “entertained.”

Example Question #1659 : Act Reading

Adapted from Emancipation of the Working Class by Eugene Debs (1918)

To speak for labor; to plead the cause of the men and women and children who toil; to serve the working class, has always been to me a high privilege; a duty of love.

 I have just returned from a visit over yonder, where three of our most loyal comrades are paying the penalty for their devotion to the cause of the working class. They have come to realize, as many of us have, that it is extremely dangerous to exercise the constitutional right of free speech in a country fighting to make democracy safe in the world.

 I realize that, in speaking to you this afternoon, there are certain limitations placed upon the right of free speech. I must be exceedingly careful, prudent, as to what I say, and even more careful and prudent as to how I say it. I may not be able to say all I think; but I am not going to say anything that I do not think. I would rather a thousand times be a free soul in jail than to be a sycophant and coward in the streets. They may put those boys in jail—and some of the rest of us in jail—but they cannot put the Socialist movement in jail. Those prison bars separate their bodies from ours, but their souls are here this afternoon. They are simply paying the penalty that all men have paid in all the ages of history for standing erect, and for seeking to pave the way to better conditions for mankind. If it had not been for the men and women who, in the past, have had the moral courage to go to jail, we would still be in the jungles.

In context, the word “sycophant” describes __________.

Possible Answers:

an obsequious person

an exuberant party

a confident man

a timid group

a reserved individual

Correct answer:

an obsequious person

Explanation:

The word “sycophant” describes someone who is servile or who flatters someone more powerful for personal gain. This is closest in meaning to “obsequious” which means eager to please or obey. The author contrasts the freedom experienced by those people who speak their mind and end up in jail as opposed to the “cowards” and “sycophants” who do not. Exuberant means full of enthusiasm; timid means shy.

Example Question #2 : Language In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from “Letting Go,” part of A Southern Woman’s Story by Phoebe Yates Pember (1879)

 Instructing him to find the doctor immediately and hastily getting on some clothing I hurried to the scene, for Fisher was an especial favorite. He was quite a young man, of about twenty years of age, who had been wounded ten months previously, very severely, high up on the leg near the hip and who by dint of hard nursing; good food and plenty of stimulant had been given a fair chance for recovery. The bones of the broken leg had slipped together, then lapped, and nature anxious as she always is to help herself had thrown a ligature across, uniting the severed parts; but after some time the side curved out, and the wounded leg was many inches shorter than its fellow. He had remained through all his trials, stout, fresh and hearty, interesting in appearance, and so gentle-mannered and uncomplaining that we all loved him. Supported on his crutches he had walked up and down his ward for the first time since he was wounded, and seemed almost restored. That same night he turned over and uttered an exclamation of pain.

Following the nurse to his bed, and turning down the covering, a small jet of blood spurted up. The sharp edge of the splintered bone must have severed an artery. I instantly put my finger on the little orifice and awaited the surgeon. He soon came--took a long look and shook his head. The explanation was easy; the artery was imbedded in the fleshy part of the thigh and could not be taken up. No earthly power could save him. 

The hardest trial of my duty was laid upon me; the necessity of telling a man in the prime of life, and fullness of strength that there was no hope for him. It was done at last, and the verdict received patiently and courageously, some directions given by which his mother would be informed of his death, and then he turned his questioning eyes upon my face.

"How long can I live?"

"Only as long as I keep my finger upon this artery." A pause ensued. God alone knew what thoughts hurried through that heart and brain, called so unexpectedly from all earthly hopes and ties. He broke the silence at last.

"You can let go--"

But I could not. Not if my own life had trembled in the balance. Hot tears rushed to my eyes, a surging sound to my ears, and a deathly coldness to my lips. The pang of obeying him was spared me, and for the first and last time during the trials that surrounded me for four years, I fainted away. No words can do justice to the uncomplaining nature of the Southern soldier. Whether it arose from resignation or merely passive submission, yet when shown in the aggregate in a hospital, it was sublime. Day after day, whether lying wasted by disease or burning up with fever, torn with wounds or sinking from debility, a groan was seldom heard. The wounded wards would be noisily gay with singing, laughing, fighting battles o'er and o'er again, and playfully chaffing each other by decrying the troops from different States, each man applauding his own.

The word “sublime” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

divine 

influential 

complete

beautiful 

ridiculous 

Correct answer:

beautiful 

Explanation:

The author uses the word “sublime” to describe the uncomplaining nature of the Southern soldier. From the context of the whole passage you can infer that the author could only be attributing a positive attribute to the Southern soldier so a few answer choices can be ruled out—namely complete, ridiculous, and influential. That leaves divine and beautiful. If you know the meaning of the word “sublime” you know it is much closer to beautiful; however, if you did not know it would be necessary to guess. Seeing as the author makes little reference to divinity or God, it should seem more likely that the correct answer is beautiful.

Example Question #2 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from Emancipation of the Working Class by Eugene Debs (1918) 

Our plutocracy, our Junkers, would have us believe that all the Junkers are confined to Germany. It is precisely because we refuse to believe this that they brand us as disloyal. They want our eyes focused on the Junkers in Berlin so that we will not see those within our own borders. I hate, I loathe, I despise Junkers and junkerdom. I have no earthly use for the Junkers of Germany, and not one particle more use for the Junkers in the United States. They tell us that we live in a great free republic; that our institutions are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people. This is too much, even for a joke. But it is not a subject for levity; it is an exceedingly serious matter.

To whom do the Wall Street Junkers in our country marry their daughters? After they have wrung their countless millions from your sweat, your agony and your life's blood, in a time of war as in a time of peace, they invest these untold millions in the purchase of titles of broken-down aristocrats, such as princes, dukes, counts and other parasites and no-accounts. Would they be satisfied to wed their daughters to honest workingmen? To real democrats? Oh, no! They scour the markets of Europe for vampires who are titled and nothing else. And they swap their millions for the titles, so that matrimony with them becomes literally a matter of money.

These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag, who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United Sates. No wonder Sam Johnson declared that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.

From the context of the whole passage, the word “Junker” most likely describes __________.

Possible Answers:

members of the armed forces

the working classes

the very wealthy

European immigrants

members of the American government

Correct answer:

the very wealthy

Explanation:

The word “Junker” is actually an outdated term for the Prussian (German) aristocracy. In this passage however it is employed to refer to the very wealthy of all nations, particularly the United States. If you did not know what a Junker was, and it is likely you did not know, you would need to read-in-context to determine the correct answer. The characterization of some Junkers as “Wall Street Junkers” provides your first clue. And in the succeeding sentence the author makes it more obvious when he describes the “countless millions” that Junkers have wrung from the sweat of the common man.

Example Question #3 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from Emancipation of the Working Class by Eugene Debs (1918)

You remember that, at the close of Theodore Roosevelt's second term as President, he went over to Africa to make war on some of his ancestors. You remember that, at the close of his expedition, he visited the capitals of Europe, and that he was wined and dined, dignified and glorified by all the Kaisers and Czars and Emperors of the Old World. He visited Potsdam while the Kaiser was there, and, according to the accounts published in the American newspapers, he and the Kaiser were soon on the most familiar terms. They were hilariously intimate with each other, and slapped each other on the back. After Roosevelt had reviewed the Kaiser's troops, according to the same accounts, he became enthusiastic over the Kaiser's legions and said: "If I had that kind of an army, I could conquer the world." He knew the Kaiser then just as well as he knows him now. He knew that he was the Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin. And yet, he permitted himself to be entertained by that Beast of Berlin; had his feet under the mahogany of the Beast of Berlin; was cheek by jowl with the Beast of Berlin. And, while Roosevelt was being entertained royally by the German Kaiser, that same Kaiser was putting the leaders of the Socialist Party in jail for fighting the Kaiser and the Junkers of Germany. Roosevelt was the guest of honor in the White House of the Kaiser, while the Socialists were in the jails of the Kaiser for fighting the Kaiser. Who then was fighting for democracy? Roosevelt? Roosevelt, who was honored by the Kaiser, or the Socialists who were in jail by order of the Kaiser?  "Birds of a feather flock together."

When the newspapers reported that Kaiser Wilhelm and ex-President Theodore Roosevelt recognized each other at sight, were perfectly intimate with each other at the first touch, they made the admission that is fatal to the claim of Theodore Roosevelt, that he is the friend of the common people and the champion of democracy; they admitted that they were kith and kin; that they were very much alike; that their ideas and ideals were about the same. If Theodore Roosevelt is the great champion of democracy—the arch foe of autocracy—what business had he as the guest of honor of the Prussian Kaiser? And when he met the Kaiser, and did honor to the Kaiser, under the terms imputed to him, wasn't it pretty strong proof that he himself was a Kaiser at heart? Now, after being the guest of Emperor Wilhelm, the Beast of Berlin, he comes back to this country, and wants you to send ten million men over there to kill the Kaiser, to murder his former friend and pal. Rather queer, isn't it? And yet, he is the patriot, and we are the traitors. I challenge you to find a Socialist anywhere on the face of the earth who was ever the guest of the Beast of Berlin, except as an inmate of his prison.

The word “close,” as used by the author in the second sentence, most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

end 

seal 

shut 

secure 

lock 

Correct answer:

end 

Explanation:

The word “close” generally means to shut or seal something. In this instance, however, the author uses it to mean end. The author describes how “at the close of his expedition [in Africa]” Theodore Roosevelt went to meet the rulers of Europe. Seeing as how his expedition in Africa would have to end in order for Roosevelt to be in Europe you know that the answer must be “end.”

Example Question #4 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft; Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1843) by Margaret Fuller; Mary Wollstonecraft and Margaret Fuller by George Elliot (1855)

There is a notion commonly entertained among men that an instructed woman, capable of having opinions, is likely to prove an unpractical yoke-fellow, always pulling one way when her husband wants to go the other, oracular in tone, and prone to give lectures. But surely, so far as obstinacy is concerned, your unreasoning animal is the most difficult of your creatures. For our own parts, we see no reason why women should be better kept under control rather than educated to be mans rational equal.  

If you ask me what offices they [women] may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will. I do not doubt there are women well fitted for such an office, and, if so, I should be glad to welcome the Maid of Saragossa. I think women need, especially at this juncture, a much greater range of occupation than they have, to rouse their latent powers. In families that I know, some little girls like to saw wood, others to use carpenters' tools. Where these tastes are indulged, cheerfulness and good-humor are promoted. Where they are forbidden, because "such things are not proper for girls," they grow sullen and mischievous.

Men pay a heavy price for their reluctance to encourage self-help and independent resources in women. The precious meridian years of many a man of genius have to be spent in the toil of routine, that an "establishment" may be kept up for a woman who can understand none of his secret yearnings, who is fit for nothing but to sit in her drawing-room like a doll-Madonna in her shrine. No matter. Anything is more endurable than to change our established formulae about women, or to run the risk of looking up to our wives instead of looking down on them. So men say of women, let them be idols, useless absorbents of previous things, provided we are not obliged to admit them to be strictly fellow-beings, to be treated, one and all, with justice and sober reverence.

The word “obstinacy” (line 3) most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

bravery

mystery

stubbornness

derision

foolishness

Correct answer:

stubbornness

Explanation:

The word obstinacy directly means stubbornness so if you know that this question is very simple; however, if you were not aware of the meaning of the word it is necessary to read-in-context to identify which of the answer choices could be plugged in and create the same meaning. The author makes reference to the fact that whatever is being described as obstinate is also unreasonable. It makes sense then to look among the answer choices for a word with similar meaning to unreasonable. Only stubbornness fits and is therefore the correct answer.

Example Question #5 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from "Co. Aytch," Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment; or, A Side Show of the Big Show by Samuel Rush Watkins (1900 ed.)

In giving a description of this most memorable battle, I do not pretend to give you figures, and describe how this general looked and how that one spoke, and the other one charged with drawn sabre, etc. I know nothing of these things—see the history for that. I was simply a soldier of the line, and I only write of the things I saw. I was in every battle, skirmish and march that was made by the First Tennessee Regiment during the war, and I do not remember of a harder contest and more evenly fought battle than that of Perryville. If it had been two men wrestling, it would have been called a "dog fall." Both sides claim the victory—both whipped.

I stood picket in Perryville the night before the battle—a Yankee on one side of the street, and I on the other. We got very friendly during the night, and made a raid upon a citizen's pantry, where we captured a bucket of honey, a pitcher of sweet milk, and three or four biscuit. The old citizen was not at home—he and his whole household had gone visiting, I believe. In fact, I think all of the citizens of Perryville were taken with a sudden notion of promiscuous visiting about this time; at least they were not at home to all callers.

At length the morning dawned. Our line was drawn up on one side of Perryville, the Yankee army on the other. The two enemies that were soon to meet in deadly embrace seemed to be eyeing each other. The blue coats lined the hillside in plain view. You could count the number of their regiments by the number of their flags. We could see the huge war dogs frowning at us, ready at any moment to belch forth their fire and smoke, and hurl their thunderbolts of iron and death in our very midst.

I wondered why the fighting did not begin. Never on earth were our troops more eager for the engagement to open. The Yankees commenced to march toward their left, and we marched almost parallel to our right—both sides watching each other's manoeuvres and movements. It was but the lull that precedes the storm. Colonel Field was commanding our brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson our regiment. About 12 o'clock, while we were marching through a corn field, in which the corn had been shocked, they opened their war dogs upon us. The beginning of the end had come. Here is where Captain John F. Wheless was wounded, and three others, whose names I have forgotten. The battle now opened in earnest, and from one end of the line to the other seemed to be a solid sheet of blazing smoke and fire. Our regiment crossed a stream, being preceded by Wharton's Texas Rangers, and we were ordered to attack at once with vigor. Here General Maney's horse was shot. From this moment the battle was a mortal struggle. Two lines of battle confronted us. We killed almost everyone in the first line, and were soon charging over the second, when right in our immediate front was their third and main line of battle from which four Napoleon guns poured their deadly fire.

We did not recoil, but our line was fairly hurled back by the leaden hail that was poured into our very faces. Eight color-bearers were killed at one discharge of their cannon. We were right up among the very wheels of their Napoleon guns. It was death to retreat now to either side. Our Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson halloed to charge and take their guns, and we were soon in a hand-to-hand fight—every man for himself—using the butts of our guns and bayonets. One side would waver and fall back a few yards, and would rally, when the other side would fall back, leaving the four Napoleon guns; and yet the battle raged. Such obstinate fighting I never had seen before or since. The guns were discharged so rapidly that it seemed the earth itself was in a volcanic uproar. The iron storm passed through our ranks, mangling and tearing men to pieces. The very air seemed full of stifling smoke and fire which seemed the very pit of hell, peopled by contending demons.

Our men were dead and dying right in the very midst of this grand havoc of battle. It was a life to life and death to death grapple. The sun was poised above us, a great red ball sinking slowly in the west, yet the scene of battle and carnage continued. I cannot describe it. The mantle of night fell upon the scene. I do not know which side whipped, but I know that I helped bring off those four Napoleon guns that night though we were mighty easy about it.

As it is used in the passage, the underlined word “whipped” in the first paragraph most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

exhausted

retreated

defeated

frothed

lashed

Correct answer:

defeated

Explanation:

When describing how the battle was fought, the narrator says, “Both sides claim the victory—both whipped.” What the narrator is suggesting is that both sides think they were victorious in the battle, but both were equally “defeated.” Here, the use of the colloquial, or slang, word "whipped" is used to contrast with the more typical, correct term "victorious."

Example Question #3 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from "Co. Aytch," Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment; or, A Side Show of the Big Show by Samuel Rush Watkins (1900 ed.)

In giving a description of this most memorable battle, I do not pretend to give you figures, and describe how this general looked and how that one spoke, and the other one charged with drawn sabre, etc. I know nothing of these things—see the history for that. I was simply a soldier of the line, and I only write of the things I saw. I was in every battle, skirmish and march that was made by the First Tennessee Regiment during the war, and I do not remember of a harder contest and more evenly fought battle than that of Perryville. If it had been two men wrestling, it would have been called a "dog fall." Both sides claim the victory—both whipped.

I stood picket in Perryville the night before the battle—a Yankee on one side of the street, and I on the other. We got very friendly during the night, and made a raid upon a citizen's pantry, where we captured a bucket of honey, a pitcher of sweet milk, and three or four biscuit. The old citizen was not at home—he and his whole household had gone visiting, I believe. In fact, I think all of the citizens of Perryville were taken with a sudden notion of promiscuous visiting about this time; at least they were not at home to all callers.

At length the morning dawned. Our line was drawn up on one side of Perryville, the Yankee army on the other. The two enemies that were soon to meet in deadly embrace seemed to be eyeing each other. The blue coats lined the hillside in plain view. You could count the number of their regiments by the number of their flags. We could see the huge war dogs frowning at us, ready at any moment to belch forth their fire and smoke, and hurl their thunderbolts of iron and death in our very midst.

I wondered why the fighting did not begin. Never on earth were our troops more eager for the engagement to open. The Yankees commenced to march toward their left, and we marched almost parallel to our right—both sides watching each other's manoeuvres and movements. It was but the lull that precedes the storm. Colonel Field was commanding our brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson our regiment. About 12 o'clock, while we were marching through a corn field, in which the corn had been shocked, they opened their war dogs upon us. The beginning of the end had come. Here is where Captain John F. Wheless was wounded, and three others, whose names I have forgotten. The battle now opened in earnest, and from one end of the line to the other seemed to be a solid sheet of blazing smoke and fire. Our regiment crossed a stream, being preceded by Wharton's Texas Rangers, and we were ordered to attack at once with vigor. Here General Maney's horse was shot. From this moment the battle was a mortal struggle. Two lines of battle confronted us. We killed almost everyone in the first line, and were soon charging over the second, when right in our immediate front was their third and main line of battle from which four Napoleon guns poured their deadly fire.

We did not recoil, but our line was fairly hurled back by the leaden hail that was poured into our very faces. Eight color-bearers were killed at one discharge of their cannon. We were right up among the very wheels of their Napoleon guns. It was death to retreat now to either side. Our Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson halloed to charge and take their guns, and we were soon in a hand-to-hand fight—every man for himself—using the butts of our guns and bayonets. One side would waver and fall back a few yards, and would rally, when the other side would fall back, leaving the four Napoleon guns; and yet the battle raged. Such obstinate fighting I never had seen before or since. The guns were discharged so rapidly that it seemed the earth itself was in a volcanic uproar. The iron storm passed through our ranks, mangling and tearing men to pieces. The very air seemed full of stifling smoke and fire which seemed the very pit of hell, peopled by contending demons.

Our men were dead and dying right in the very midst of this grand havoc of battle. It was a life to life and death to death grapple. The sun was poised above us, a great red ball sinking slowly in the west, yet the scene of battle and carnage continued. I cannot describe it. The mantle of night fell upon the scene. I do not know which side whipped, but I know that I helped bring off those four Napoleon guns that night though we were mighty easy about it.

As it is used in the passage, the underlined word ”lull” in the third paragraph most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

hum

impasse

cloud

rocking

calm

Correct answer:

calm

Explanation:

The author uses a well-known expression when in the third paragraph he states, “It was but the lull that precedes the storm." This can also be said as “the quiet before the storm” or “the calm before the storm.” Therefore, "calm" is the best synonym. To help you, an "impasse" is a stalemate or a deadlock.

Example Question #13 : Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col. James Smith, (Late a Citizen of Bourbon County, Kentucky,) during his Captivity with the Indians, in the Years 1755, '56, '57, '58, & '59 by James Smith (1799; ed. Glugg & Eliott, 1834)

After the departure of these warriors we had hard times; and though we were not altogether out of provisions, we were brought to short allowance. At length Tontileaugo had considerable success, and we had meat brought into camp sufficient to last ten days. Tontileaugo then took me with him in order to encamp some distance from this winter-cabin, to try his luck there. We carried no provisions with us; he said he would leave what was there for the women and children, and that we could shift for ourselves. We steered about a south course up the waters of this creek, and encamped about ten or twelve miles from the winter-cabin. As it was still cold weather, and a crust upon the snow, which made a noise as we walked, and alarmed the deer, we could kill nothing, and consequently went to sleep without supper. The only chance we had, under these circumstances, was to hunt bear-holes; as the bears, about Christmas, search out a winter lodging-place, where they lie about three or four months without eating or drinking. This may appear to some incredible, but it is well known to be the case by those who live in the remote western parts of North America.

The next morning early we proceeded on, and when we found a tree scratched by the bears climbing up, and the hole in the tree sufficiently large for the reception of the bear, we then felled a sapling or small tree against or near the hole, and it was my business to climb up and drive out the bear, while Tontileaugo stood ready with his gun and bow. We went on in this manner until evening without success. At length we found a large elm scratched, and a hole in it about forty feet up, but no tree nigh suitable to lodge against the hole. Tontileaugo got a long pole and some dry rotten wood, which he tied in bunches with bark; and as there was a tree that grew near the elm, and extended up near the hole, but leaned the wrong way, so that we could not lodge it to advantage, to remedy this inconvenience he climbed up this tree and carried with him his rotten wood, fire, and pole. The rotten wood he tied to his belt, and to one end of the pole he tied a hook and a piece of rotten wood, which he set fire to, as it would retain fire almost like punk, and reached this hook from limb to limb as he went up. When he got up with his pole he put dry wood on fire into the hole; after he put in the fire he heard the bear snuff, and he came speedily down, took his gun in his hand, and waited until the bear would come out; when it did appear he attempted taking sight with his rifle; but it being then too dark to see the sights, he set it down by a tree, and instantly bent his bow, took hold of an arrow, and shot the bear a little behind the shoulder. I was preparing also to shoot an arrow, but he called to me to stop, there was no occasion; and with that the bear fell to the ground.

Being very hungry, we kindled a fire, opened the bear, took out the liver, and wrapped some of the caul-fat round, and put it on a wooden spit, which we stuck in the ground by the fire to roast; then we skinned the bear, got on our kettle, and had both roast and boiled, and also sauce to our meat, which appeared to me to be delicate fare. After I was fully satisfied I went to sleep; Tontileaugo awoke me, saying, "Come, eat hearty, we have got meat plenty now."

The next morning we cut down a lynn-tree, peeled bark and made a snug little shelter, facing the southeast, with a large log betwixt us and the northwest; we made a good fire before us, and scaffolded up our meat at one side. When we had finished our camp we went out to hunt; searched two trees for bears, but to no purpose. As the snow thawed a little in the afternoon, Tontileaugo killed a deer, which we carried with us to camp.

Sometime in February the four warriors returned, who had taken two scalps and six horses from the frontiers of Pennsylvania. The hunters could then scatter out a considerable distance from the winter-cabin and encamp, kill meat, and bring it in upon horses; so that we commonly, after this, had plenty of provision.

As it is used in the passage, the underlined word “provisions” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

donations 

stipulations 

victuals

preparations

provisos 

Correct answer:

victuals

Explanation:

In this case, “provisions” means rations in the form of food. We know “donations” is incorrect as it suggests something given, when clearly in the passage the food is hunted, not given to the two men. “Preparations” merely sounds similar to "provisions," whilst “provisos” and “stipulations” are clearly wrong: both meaning some form of condition. “Victuals” in this case is best as it means food that people can eat or supplies of edible food. The correct answer might be determined either by elimination or by prior knowledge.

Example Question #6 : Context Dependent Meaning Of Words In Social Science / History Passages

Adapted from An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col. James Smith, (Late a Citizen of Bourbon County, Kentucky,) during his Captivity with the Indians, in the Years 1755, '56, '57, '58, & '59 by James Smith (1799; ed. Glugg & Eliott, 1834)

After the departure of these warriors we had hard times; and though we were not altogether out of provisions, we were brought to short allowance. At length Tontileaugo had considerable success, and we had meat brought into camp sufficient to last ten days. Tontileaugo then took me with him in order to encamp some distance from this winter-cabin, to try his luck there. We carried no provisions with us; he said he would leave what was there for the women and children, and that we could shift for ourselves. We steered about a south course up the waters of this creek, and encamped about ten or twelve miles from the winter-cabin. As it was still cold weather, and a crust upon the snow, which made a noise as we walked, and alarmed the deer, we could kill nothing, and consequently went to sleep without supper. The only chance we had, under these circumstances, was to hunt bear-holes; as the bears, about Christmas, search out a winter lodging-place, where they lie about three or four months without eating or drinking. This may appear to some incredible, but it is well known to be the case by those who live in the remote western parts of North America.

The next morning early we proceeded on, and when we found a tree scratched by the bears climbing up, and the hole in the tree sufficiently large for the reception of the bear, we then felled a sapling or small tree against or near the hole, and it was my business to climb up and drive out the bear, while Tontileaugo stood ready with his gun and bow. We went on in this manner until evening without success. At length we found a large elm scratched, and a hole in it about forty feet up, but no tree nigh suitable to lodge against the hole. Tontileaugo got a long pole and some dry rotten wood, which he tied in bunches with bark; and as there was a tree that grew near the elm, and extended up near the hole, but leaned the wrong way, so that we could not lodge it to advantage, to remedy this inconvenience he climbed up this tree and carried with him his rotten wood, fire, and pole. The rotten wood he tied to his belt, and to one end of the pole he tied a hook and a piece of rotten wood, which he set fire to, as it would retain fire almost like punk, and reached this hook from limb to limb as he went up. When he got up with his pole he put dry wood on fire into the hole; after he put in the fire he heard the bear snuff, and he came speedily down, took his gun in his hand, and waited until the bear would come out; when it did appear he attempted taking sight with his rifle; but it being then too dark to see the sights, he set it down by a tree, and instantly bent his bow, took hold of an arrow, and shot the bear a little behind the shoulder. I was preparing also to shoot an arrow, but he called to me to stop, there was no occasion; and with that the bear fell to the ground.

Being very hungry, we kindled a fire, opened the bear, took out the liver, and wrapped some of the caul-fat round, and put it on a wooden spit, which we stuck in the ground by the fire to roast; then we skinned the bear, got on our kettle, and had both roast and boiled, and also sauce to our meat, which appeared to me to be delicate fare. After I was fully satisfied I went to sleep; Tontileaugo awoke me, saying, "Come, eat hearty, we have got meat plenty now."

The next morning we cut down a lynn-tree, peeled bark and made a snug little shelter, facing the southeast, with a large log betwixt us and the northwest; we made a good fire before us, and scaffolded up our meat at one side. When we had finished our camp we went out to hunt; searched two trees for bears, but to no purpose. As the snow thawed a little in the afternoon, Tontileaugo killed a deer, which we carried with us to camp.

Sometime in February the four warriors returned, who had taken two scalps and six horses from the frontiers of Pennsylvania. The hunters could then scatter out a considerable distance from the winter-cabin and encamp, kill meat, and bring it in upon horses; so that we commonly, after this, had plenty of provision.

Which of the following statements about “punk” is supported by the passage's second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

It is wood which burns quickly when set alight.

It is fresh green wood that holds a flame well.

It is a piece of wood so decayed that it is good for tinder. 

It is rotten wood that holds a flame for a short time.

It is an inferior type of tree that makes good firewood.

Correct answer:

It is a piece of wood so decayed that it is good for tinder. 

Explanation:

Looking at the passage, it states that “the rotten wood he tied to his belt, and to one end of the pole he tied a hook and a piece of rotten wood, which he set fire to, as it would retain fire almost like punk"; from this, we can tell that “punk” is most likely something which can hold fire for a long time. If we add to this the fact that the wood is rotten or decayed, we can figure out the correct answer, "It is a piece of wood so decayed that it is good for tinder."

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