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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Talking Words

To sample the variety of ways humans speak, one only needs to turn on the T.V. There are the viragos of the daytime soaps; the stentorian roar of the sports broadcaster; and the fervid enunciation of the televangelist. Keep flipping the channel long enough, you are bound to encounter examples of the words below.



A pontiff is another name for a pope. And when the pope talks people listen. The connotation with the word ‘pontiff’, however, is not very flattering. Apparently some former pope was not only renowned for drawing large crowds, but for speaking with his chest puffed out, declaiming upon matters in an annoyingly arrogant way.

Today, we have the word ‘pontificate’, which can apply the lowliest pauper or the most vociferous atheist. As long as that person is voicing his opinion in a pompously annoying manner, he, or she, is pontificating.



Sententious, unlike the verb ‘pontificate’, is an adjective. In terms of meaning, though, the two words are similar: ‘sententious’ describes somebody who pontificates. Really the only difference is a person who is being sententious isn’t just prattling on about his or her beliefs but is also being preachy and moralistic.



We’ve all seen them—politicians accused of something incriminating who, through some preternatural ability, are able to avoid the issue. This ability has a name: it’s called prevarication. In other words, to prevaricate is to evade telling the truth.  And while politicians have turned it into an art form, prevarication has, at some point, flowed from most of our lips.



To equivocate is to not answer a question directly, and thus the word shares a lot in common with prevaricate. However, ‘equivocate’ is more focused on intentional ambiguity. For instance, many teenagers are prone to equivocate when their parents grill them: “Where did you go last night”, “I went out.”



The etymology of the word ‘maunder’ is much like the definition of the word. Apparently ‘maunder’ came from Middle French ‘miende’, which means to beg. This definition comes from ‘mendicant’ (a previous vocab Wed. word), which is from the Latin for ‘beggar’ (a meaning that is unchanged today).

Quite a rambling account of the history of a word. Speaking of which, ‘maunder’ means to ramble, chatting in an idle fashion. I often find myself maundering on long road trips—something I’m sure my “car mates” aren’t always fond of.



What happens when everybody is maundering and the conversation becomes interminable and directionless. Well, such rambling discourse is palaver. ‘Palaver’ can also be used as a verb. If one ‘palaver’s’, one talks on and on, and on and on, and a little more on and on, and…


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4 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Talking Words

  1. Kevin March 25, 2013 at 12:33 am #

    I read somewhere else on magoosh that some of the GRE prep books don’t have good vocab sections because they offer the kind of vocab you would have seen on the old GRE. I’m wondering if there’s any way to differentiate between the types of words used on the old vs revised GRE, and if that’s something minor enough that I don’t have to worry much about. I’m asking because I’m using brainscape, a pretty effective vocab learning app, to study a GRE word list. I don’t want to waste my time learning a couple thousand words from it if it’s full of words that would never be on the revised GRE to begin with.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 26, 2013 at 11:29 am #

      That’s a great question!

      And an important one.

      So, the words that are a waste of time are really obscure words. To be fair, most vocabulary lists out there don’t carry too many overly obscure words. I use my desktop New Oxford Dictionary. If it says a word is rare or formal, then I highly doubt the word will pop up on the GRE. Then there are words, such as ‘vellicate’, which I plucked from the mygretutor vocabulary list. It’s not even in my dictionary!

      The words you definitely want to avoid are the ones relating to analogies. A good way to screen for these words is that they will tend to be concrete, nouns. For instance, a ‘die’ is a tool use for molding a particular shape. Imagine what the text completion for that would look like. If you notice that your list is totally free of such words, that’s great: you most likely have a word list for the New GRE.

      I hope that helps shed some insight :)!

  2. Hesam Mazidi March 21, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Hi Chris!
    If one pontificates, does it imply that he/she is in a higher position?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

      Good question!

      While it might sound like a pontificating person is in a higher position, anyone of us can pontificate. In a sense, we put ourselves in a higher position because we think our opinion is so important.

      Hope that helps!

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