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Vocab Wednesday: Short Words

GRE words are often frightening because of their length. Who hasn’t buckled at disingenuousness, quaked at pusillanimity, and all but thrown their hands up in the air at obstreperously. Surely, some of the most difficult words on the test must be these multi-syllable monstrosities.

While such words are clearly intimidating, often one has recourse to word roots, or a positive/negative sense of the word. Very short words, on the other hand, can flummox us to an even greater degree. Eke, irk, nub, and din…sound like the names of a band of troglodytes. Yet these syllabic grunts connote a world of meaning – a meaning you would probably never be able to guess based on the way the words look and/or sound.

Below are a few examples of three- and four-letter words that, despite their diminutive stature, can stop you dead in your vocabulary tracks.



A tyro is a rookie, a neophyte, a novice. If you have just signed up for the GRE, and have only begun to comb the wealth of material out there, then you are a GRE tyro. No worries—spend some time on the Magoosh blog, and you will in no time become a GRE maven.


Often confused with ‘wit’, which is the ability to use just a few words to say something funny, ‘whit’ means a tiny amount. Often we encounter this word couched as follows, “not a whit“, which translates to ‘not at all.’ As in:

I care not a whit whether you are a tyro of the comedy stage; you have a natural wit that will win you the affection—and guffaws—of your audience.


Nub is the central or crucial part to a matter. Nub is related to gist and crux (as well as ‘pith’, which appears below). It is fitting, that in each case, a word meaning the basic overall meaning, is in itself short.


A loud, ongoing noise is a din. Crowds are known for their din. Noisy restaurants, the frenetic kitchens in the back, are all guilty of creating a din. An informal synonym for ‘din’ is ‘racket.’ (And I’m not talking about the thing Federer wields). A GRE synonym for din is the word ‘cacophony.’


To annoy is to irk. A similar word—and another three-letter word to boot—is vex. Remember to use both correctly


No, this is not a response to touching some mysterious oozy substance (that would be ick). Eke means to barely manage or subsist on. If you are eking out a living, then you are barely making enough money to get by. If a team ekes out a victory, then they just barely win.


The core or essence of something is the pith. Matters have piths, as in, “The pith of the matter was the elephant in the room that everyone blithely skirted around.” The pith of this post is the following: be careful with short words; make sure you learn the definitions and can comfortably use the words in a sentence.


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4 Responses to Vocab Wednesday: Short Words

  1. vaisnavi June 1, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Some of the synonym pair i made are

    1) Tyro= Neophyte, Green,fledgling,Novice.
    2) Whit= iota,Scintilla, Mite,Morsel
    3)Nub= Kernel.
    4)Din= Grating, Cacophony, Jarring, Creaking
    5)Irk= Annoy, Pester,Badger,Peeved, Ruffle,Bait.
    6)Eke= Pull in, bring out, Stretch out.
    7)Pith=Essence, Cardinal point, Embodiment, Axiom,Core, Crux,Kernel( again), Nub.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

      Very good :). Quite the cornucopia of related words!

  2. abhay June 1, 2012 at 7:17 am #

    Nice post. Trying to use these words –
    A couple of weeks ago I was a tyro in field of GRE. I did not have a whit of any technique or strategy. I am learning slow and steady. I learnt that in RC, it is important to get the nub of passage. Pith of what author is trying to convey is important. Don’t get irked by unnecessary details. Unless you get these facts, you will eke out in RC.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      That’s awesome!! So ‘pith’y and pertinent :).

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