So, you know I took the GRE a few weeks ago. To prepare, I had a couple-hundred or so flashcards of vocabulary words. I got the words from lists of words in the prep material, and also from my own reading. I included words I had always sort of thought I knew but hadn’t been sure enough of to actually use in conversation, and words whose meanings turned out to surprise me when I read them in the prep material. I thought you might want to check out some of the highlights to see if you really know as many words as you think you do. So here are some of the highlights from my eight-inch high stack of flashcards.
Words I didn’t know but should have:
recusant: dissenter, nonconformist
juggernaut: anything that draws blind and destructive devotion. Roger also tells me it is the name of certain softball bat. Don't know how I didn't know that one.
contumely: I recognized this one from Austen, but still didn’t know what it meant. It means an insulting display of contempt.
phlegmatic: apathetic, sluggish; or self-possessed, cool.
taciturn: silent, not talkative. Tacit means “unspoken.”
eponymous: giving one’s name to something.
distaff: women’s work, or pertaining to women.
panegyric: a eulogy in praise or commendation. Similarly, encomium, despite its unfortunate similarity to meconium (and if you don’t know what this is, you’ve never delivered a baby), means a formal expression of high praise.
apotheosis: means “glorification as ideal.”
recidivism: a repeated relapse, as into crime.
Weird similarities and contrasts
Sedition means resistance to lawful authority but sedulity means diligence.
Impunity and impugn are almost opposites.
Venal means “open to bribery” and venial means a kind of sin that can be forgiven.
Spendthrift is someone who squanders money, and skinflint is a miser.
Turpitude means baseness or depravity; torpor means sluggishness. So torpid means sluggish, but turbid means unclear, muddled, clouded, disturbed. Turgid means swollen or tumid, or pompous and overblown.
Abrogate: to abolish by formal means. Arrogate means to claim without right. Abnegate means “to relinquish.” Abjure means to renounce or avoid. Objurgate means to denounce vehemently.
Obdurate means stubborn or unyielding.
Moribund means “in a dying state.” Mordant, however, means “caustic or biting,” as does mordacious.
Timorous means “fearful,” but temerity means “reckless or foolish daring.”
Ingenuous means “free from restraint, artless or naïve,” while ingenious means pretty darn smart. (I actually already knew this one, but I thought it was worth pointing out.)
Dissemble means to prevaricate, but disseminate means to get the word out.
Imprecate means to curse something; it is not related to implicate.
Words I thought I knew the meaning of, at least in a general sort of way, but it turns out I really didn’t. OK, before you read what I thought these meant and what they really mean, ask yourself to define them and see how you do.
extenuate: it actually means “to lessen.” Attenuate also means “to make thin or weaken.”
nonplussed: I always thought it meant something like “unimpressed,” or “unfazed,” but it means “perplexed”
facetious. I always thought this meant something like “ironic,” because the way people use it: “I was just being facetious.” But it really just means “frivolously amusing.”
quiescent: means “motionless.” I thought it meant “agreeable,” or “amenable.”
dessicated: I thought it meant “chewed up”! Really! It actually means “dried out.” I know everyone knew that but me.
iconoclast: one who opposes established beliefs. I, well, sorta thought it meant the opposite. Kind of.
laconic: I thought this meant lazy, or apathetic. It actually means “terse and concise.”
plenary: I thought it kind of meant “seminal,” or “the main one,” but it really means “full or complete.”
sanguine: another one that I thought meant apathetic, or unmoved. This one really means “cheerful, hopeful, continent.” Consanguine, on the other hand, means “related by blood.”
salient: I thought this one meant “most applicable,” but it really means “prominent.” (You can see how they’re sort of the same. Kind of.)
Saturnine means sluggish or gloomy.
Simper does not mean a little flirty pout, as I thought it did. It means “a silly, self-conscious smile.”
Craven does not mean “insane” or even “malicious.” It means “cowardly.”
Compendium does not mean a collection. It means a brief account of a subject, a summary, or an inventory. Similary, compendious means concise (ironic, I know.)
Baleful does not mean sort of helpless and woebegone. It means “full of menace, pernicious.”
salubrious has nothing to do with saliva but means “favorable to or promoting health.”
Quixotic: OK, I already knew what this one meant, but I have been mispronouncing it for years, at least in my mind. I thought it was “keeyotic,” to resemble the correct pronunciation of Quixote.
Enervate means, illogically, “to destroy the vigor of or weaken.” Seems to me that it should mean to give MORE nerve to something, not take away nerve.
Clement. Duh, I should have known this one because of “clemency.” I kept thinking of the people at the elementary school saying we could stay in for recess “in the case of inclement weather.” But I never really knew that clement means “mild, lenient, compassionate.”
Hermetic: means “completely sealed,” or “having to do with the occult sciences.” I made a big fool of myself once when someone asked me what this meant and I tried to explain what hermeneutic meant instead. (Don’t ask me to define that one today, though.)
Blandishment is not a criticism but a flattery or cajoling.
Bemused does not mean thinking, “Hmm! Imagine that!” with a little chuckle. It actually means “bewildered, confused or muddled.”
Calumny. I think I was mixing this up with calamity. It just means slander.
Torrid does not mean tempestuous and steamy, it means scorching or burning hot with sun. (Also see torpid, above.)
Desultory does not mean apathetically or lazily, it means “jumping from one thing to another; disconnected.”
Weird words, or fun words I’m glad I discovered:
homunculus: a midget.
persiflage: light, bantering talk.
obstreperous: noisily unruly, out-of-control. Surprising I didn’t already know and use this one, being the mother of four boys.
tyro: a novice or beginner.
diurnal: having to do with daytime.
sybarite: person devoted to pleasure and luxury.
pusillanimous: lacking resolution. Try using that one in a sentence today.
orotund: full, rich, clear voice—or, bombastic speech.
prolix means tediously long and wordy (the opposite of compendious, I guess).
mawkish: such a great word! Means “sickly sweet or sentimental.” Describes some poetry that gets submitted to Segullah . . .
ensorcell: to bewitch. Love this one!
elutriate: to purify by washing. This is just so fun to say, with a sort of breathless, Galadriel sort of accent.