CPE Vocabulary

CPE Vocabulary

This post is written by a language learner preparing for CPE (C2 Proficiency). If you are in the middle of studying for the test too, or if you just want to build your vocabulary without having to take any exam at all, read on. If you use the vocabulary the post aims to teach you, and, most importantly, if you do it right, you will definitely show how highly proficient you are in English. All the vocabulary is taken from CPE practice tests. You can see the original context and a more detailed explanation of how the vocabulary can be used. So, let’s get to work.

# 1

It’s Saturday morning in Hackney Wick, east London, and apart from a mechanic deep in the bowels of a truck, the only sign of life among the small factories on a backstreet is a whine of machinery from an upper window.

The bowels /ˈbaʊəlzof something are the deepest inner part of something. A ship mechanic may be in the bowels of a ship, you may be looking for something in the bowels of a storage, and archaeologists may be trying to excavate hidden treasures from the bowels of the earth (from deep under the ground). Metaphorically speaking, someone may be in the bowels of a system (e.g. I’ve been sitting in this cell for over 20 years, hiding in the bowels of our justice system). Here is another example: Competition for power takes place in the bowels of the presidency.

# 2

Although there is a wealth of (a lot of) fiction portraying bad marriages, it takes real flair to spawn (create) a dysfunctional union worthy of classic status.

If something takes real flair, it takes real talent. You have a flair for something if you can do it skillfully: 1) She has a flair for languages. 2) I’ve got a flair for planning. 3) You have a real flair for music

Note that flair is a singular noun (used with a) when it means an ability, talent, gift. And it is an uncountable noun if it means style: 1) Their work has all the usual punch (energy, emotional power), panache /pəˈnæʃ/ (flamboyant confidence of style) and flair you’d expect. 2) She always dresses with flair. 

# 3

I take the James’s bike for a spin and the ride is light, stiff and smooth thanks to bamboo’s ability to dampen vibration.

A spin is a short journey for pleasure. You would usually take a car for a spin, but it’s also possible to take a bike or a motorbike for a spin: 1) Let’s take my dad’s car for a spin = Let’s go for a spin in my dad’s car. 2) We’re taking the new truck for a spin. 3) He said he goes for a spin every night, just driving around. 4) Would you like to take a spin on my new bike?

# 4 

All this, together with the technical skill involved in using jigs, power tools and design blueprints, is a leap of faith for someone whose idea of DIY is flatpack furniture assembly.

A leap of faith is a decision to believe that something is true or will happen although you have no proof. If you are not good with tools, trying to build a bike is a leap of faith. More examples: 1) Anyone investing in new media today has to make a leap of faith (because the outcome is unknown). 2) It took a big leap of faith to decide to quit my job and try something new. 3) Loving someone is a leap of faith. 

# 5 

Get another piece and have another go.

If you have a go at something, you try to do it: 1) I can’t open the door. – Let me have a go. 2) She once had a go at writing a novel but quickly gave up. 3) I’d thought about skiing for some time and finally decided to give it a go this winter.

# 6 

It was this, plus the design challenge, that led James to spend years cooped up in a shed in Brecon, Wales.

You are cooped up in a building if you are kept there, especially for a long period of time: 1) The children were cranky (crabby, irritable) after being cooped up in the house all day. 2) I can’t keep Otto cooped up in this monastery. 3) You went fishing on the lake, leaving your wife and daughter cooped up in that remote cabin. 4) I have being cooped up in the office

# 7 

In January 1996, on a dare, he began posting a daily blog.

If you do something on a dare, you do it because someone told you to do it, especially as a way of showing courage: 1) He jumped from the bridge on a dare. 2) He stole a car on a dare, allegedly. 3) I only kissed him once, and it was on a dare. 4) And on a dare, I hotwired a car, I got caught (to hotwire a car means to start it by short-circuiting its ignition system).

# 8

Once a poster child for the wages (recompense) of web indiscretion, she has become a virtuoso of managed self-revelation.

You are a poster child if you have a public image that is identified with something: she used to be a poster child for indiscreet blogging but now she knows what should be left unsaid, or rather unposted. The idiom may sound a bit humorous. More examples: 1) By 2010, Detroit had become the poster child for an American city in crisis. 2) She’s like the poster child for staying cool. 3) You’re not exactly the poster child for mental health. 4) She strikes me as the poster child for people who believe.

 # 9

We plunge into the maelstrom of the Internet, tossing confessions, personal photos and stories (putting them forward for discussion in an informal way) into the digital vortex.

Maelstrom /ˈmeɪlˌstrɒmis a literary word used to describe a very confused or violent situation: 1) Your soldiers have been received here not as enemies but as human beings, as neighbours who had been forced against their will into the maelstrom of war. 2) As with climate change, most developing nations are victims forcibly drawn into the maelstrom of the crisis through its consequential impact on the global economy. 3) Inside, she was a maelstrom of churning emotions.

If you refer to a situation as a vortex, you feel that you are being forced into it without being able to prevent it: 1) Even if I say his name, we get sucked into this vortex of awkwardness. 2) This decision propelled her into a vortex from which there seemed no escape. 3) His country is being dragged closer to the vortex of violence.

# 10

They pulled out all the stops to make sure that I was adequately catered for.

In other words, they applied maximum effort, used everything possible to make sure I was adequately catered for (to make sure all my needs were met). More examples: 1) We’re going to pull out all the stops to get this show ready in time. 2) When we pull out all the stops, we can deal with anything and anyone. 3) We have to pull out all the stops if we want to win. 4) We should pull out all the stops to try and do so. I cannot comment on the changes as such at this time, but certainly we will take them away and study them. (“as such” is used after a noun when you are referring to the usual meaning of the word)

So, pull out all the stops to achieve your goals! Dream big, work hard and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Good luck with your exam!

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