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GRE Vocab Wednesdays: Surprising Double Meanings

Sure, you’ve probably come across many words with double—if not triple—meanings. Usually you probably dutifully make note of the secondary definition and move on. Some double meanings though are surprising, in that you would not expect the second definition of the word to be what is.



The pope decked out in the Vatican garb; hours long mass in Latin; the Reformation… We all have associations with the Catholic Church, a fact that perhaps speaks to how wide-ranging the church is. In that sense then, the second definition of catholic shouldn’t be too surprising: universal, all-embracing.

Unlike Vivian, who swooned over Monet’s water lilies, and held all other art was a degradation of the French master’s work, Abigail was far more catholic in her tastes: she gushed just effusively about the El Greco exhibit as she did the street art scattered throughout her neighborhood. 



‘Obtain’ means to be customary, prevalent, which, ironically, is not the customary definition of the word obtain (we are all more familiar with the verb meaning to acquire).

In the Middle East sitting down and sharing tea with a total stranger obtains in most regions.

What obtains in high school—attending class each day, completing assignments on time—does not necessarily obtain in college: one can miss many classes and, as long as one does the reading, still get an ‘A.’



I have an awful cold at the moment, and am going around disposing gobs of Kleenexes into the nearest wastebasket. The second definition of ‘disposed’ has nothing to do with wastebaskets, or for that matter sinus infections. ‘Disposed’ means to be willing or inclined to do something. Well, given I have a cold I suppose I am not disposed to doing much.

Indisposed, by the way, means reluctant, unwilling.

Many of us are not as indisposed to sharing our information on-line as we’d hope—we often unwittingly allow online advertisers an intimate glimpse into our lives.



I’m talking neither Edison nor leather. ‘Patent’, as an adjective, means standing out, conspicuous. It is typically used to modify a negative word.

To my chagrin, he listened to my story about alien abduction with patent incredulity.

Charlie’s unfamiliarity with thermodynamics was patent to all those present, many of whom scowled derisively as he fudged the most basic tenets.



We are not talking about money here—the second definition of ‘afford’ means to offer up or provide an opportunity.

Three years of living in Bolivia afforded Michael a view into a culture very different from the one he had left behind in America.

The outdoor venue afforded ample seating, even for concerts that typically sold out elsewhere.


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9 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesdays: Surprising Double Meanings

  1. Islam September 24, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    Hi all,
    My biggest weak point is my vocab, my vocabulary is so bad (at least for GRE) and the reading part as well. Actually i’m thinking how i’m going to deal with all these difficult words. However, the point is i feel anxious when time passed and thinking of ‘how big’ portion and words i have to study. I’m going to prepare for the test starting from the mid of October and i have one month to do so. Please give me a magic advice(s) to the point to help me in my preparation for the test.
    Thanks everybody!!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris September 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

      Hi Islam,

      I think the single best place for the “magic advice” you seek is the Magoosh Vocabulary ebook. Read through it, and afterwards, once you’ve digested the information, feel free to ask me any questions. Here is the link :):

  2. Nitish September 3, 2012 at 4:57 am #

    Another surprising double meaning word is “siren” which apart from “a sound as a signal or warning” also means “a beautiful and seductive woman”. 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris September 5, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

      Yes, that is definitely one with which readers of the Odyssey will be familiar :).

  3. vaisnavi August 31, 2012 at 2:32 am #

    Some other words 🙂 1) Scurvy= despicable, contemptible, mean
    2) Meet= Suitable, proper, fitting
    3)Prize= prying something
    4) List= a careening, or leaning to one side, as a ship
    5) Bent= direction taken, inclination, as by one’s interest
    6) tender= to offer or proffer
    7) Consequential= self important, pompous
    8)Exact= to call for, demand, or require
    9) Nice= fastidious, finicky, or fussy taste.
    10) Mince= to act or speak with elegance.
    11) Essay= make trial of, put under test
    12) Fell= fierce, cruel, dreadful, savage.
    13) Qualify= to modify or limit in some way, make less stronger or positive.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris September 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

      That’s a great list :).

      A few words are a little too obscure though. ‘Meet’, ‘Nice’, ‘Scurvy.’

      Otherwise, all words for the GRE.

  4. vaisnavi August 31, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    Some words i know are 1) Rent – rip or split. 2)Guy- a cable or chain attached to something.
    3) Betray- to show.

  5. Nitish August 30, 2012 at 4:46 am #

    Reminds me of the word “Scotch” which has similar double meaning : “to cut, to put to an abrupt end, to render harmless”

    Entire definition here –>

    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

      ooh, that’s a good one! As into ‘scotch a rumor’. I’ll have to remember that next time around :).

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