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GRE Vocabulary: Animal Mnemonics

Many of us associate certain tendencies with animals. Cats are independent and aloof; dogs are loyal and loving. Owls apparently are wise, and elephants…well, they’re just big. Certain animals have actually changed into verbs (not literally, of course). Below are a few such vocabulary words that you should definitely know for the GRE.



For those who have not lived in the U.S., this animal may be as exotic as the lemur is for the rest of us. A badger is basically a weasel on steroids – you wouldn’t want to upset one. Curiously, the verb badger doesn’t carry any menacing connotation. To badger simply means to pester repeatedly. Perhaps a buzzing fly comes to mind, however the verb ‘fly’ was already taken.

Badgered by his parents to find a job, the 30-year-old loafer instead joined a gang of itinerant musicians.



A hound usually rears its canine head in movies in which the bad guy is on the lam. Or I take that back – the hound usually drops its head to the ground, sniffing out the bad guy as he crosses treacherous terrain. Unsurprisingly, the verb form of hound is to pursue relentlessly.

An implacable foe of corruption, Eliot Ness hounded out graft in all forms – he even helped nab Al Capone.



Man’s best friend, right? Well, as long as it’s not in verb form. To dog means to pursue relentlessly, and is thus a synonym of hound.

Throughout his life, he was dogged by insecurities that inhibited personal growth.



The verb form of cow always tickles me, as I imagine the cow to be one of the more placid creatures. Despite such bovine equanimity, to cow means to use intimidation to make someone give in. In the ‘cheesy’ mnemonic department, imagine a cow on steroids (as most tend to be these days) telling you to ‘moo’-ve out of the way. Pretty intimidating, huh?

Do not be cowed by a 3,000-word vocabulary list – use and turn that list into a deck of flashcards!



A ferret is a tiny weasel, one that moves so quickly that it is used to catch rabbits. Apparently it has a knack for digging our long-eared friend out of their burrows. Unlike some of the verbs above, the verb form of ferret aptly fits the animal—to ferret means to search for something persistently. Usually the verb is coupled with a preposition as in, “ferret something out” or “ferret around”.

Ever the resourceful lexicographer, Fenton was able to ferret out the word origin of highly obscure words.  


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6 Responses to GRE Vocabulary: Animal Mnemonics

  1. Vaisnavi January 3, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Lion is another word means someone who is famous and important person(as in literary case).

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 5, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      Yes, lion is a good word. And it can also be changed into ‘lionize’, a verb, which means to glorify and treat as a celebrity. Maybe, I’ll include it on a future animal post.

  2. Vanan January 1, 2012 at 7:54 am #

    Excellent collection Chris..!
    Can you refer me the sites which explore the origin and story behind each and every words or just some of them?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 2, 2012 at 11:27 am #

      Actually, there really isn’t. Sometimes provides word notes on those words with curious etymologies. Otherwise, I’m not really sure if there is anything beyond my posts (all of which you can read here!).

      Who knows, at the end of this year, perhaps I will put together all my vocabulary posts into an e-book!

  3. sheena December 30, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    nice going chris 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 2, 2012 at 11:23 am #


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