All ACT Reading Resources
Example Question #1 : Determining Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Paired Passages
Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)
When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness, and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.
Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)
With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.
It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.
As the author of Passage 2 uses it in the passage's last line, the word “perennial” most nearly means __________.
The word “perennial” is most frequently used to describe something that is either recurring or enduring. If you did not know this, it is difficult to solve this question from the context of the sentence, unless you go about it by means of eliminating incorrect answers. "Occasional" loosely means infrequent and goes against the author’s intention when plugged in to the sentence. "Nostalgic" means looking back on past events fondly, and "intrepid" means adventurous. Neither of these answers adequately describes a “catastrophe” like war. If you were able to eliminate all three of the other answers, you would arrive at "recurrent" as the solution.