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GRE Vocab Wednesday: A Potpourri

Today, there is no unifying theme, beyond the fact that there is no theme. The words are a medley, a hodgepodge, and a farrago of the GRE lexicon (all those words mean a jumble or mixture).


Speaking of a random assortment, a potpourri is just that. Originally, from a French soup filled with different meats and translating roughly to “rotten pot”—guessing not a Michelin starred item—potpourri today far more innocuous connotes nothing more than a jumble or medley of things.


The first part of the word sounds like “mercy”, but don’t let that fool you. A person who is mercenary will probably have very little mercy, if there is money involved. Originally, the word came from the Latin for reward, and was used to describe a soldier who would receive money (the reward) for fighting in a foreign army. Today, the word describes someone who engages in unethical deeds just to make a quick buck.


A Kleenex stretched thin would make a very tenuous trampoline. A tenuous argument isn’t going to convince any jury. From the Latin for “thin”, tenuous connotes either insubstantiality or a sense that something is not convincing. Clouds are tenuous; your AWA essay will hopefully not be.


Perhaps in another blog post, tenuous and tenable would have made a great pair for confusing words. So I will not be tenuous in my pronouncement: the two words are not related. If something is tenable, it is capable of being defended against attack—on the rhetorical level. Arguments or positions that are tenable can be defended against attack. A fully sufficient moon base in less than 10 years? Not a tenable argument—unless you are Elon Musk.

Not to be forgotten is the word “untenable”, which means the opposite of untenable. You can ace the GRE verbal without studying an iota of vocabulary is an untenable position.


Given that a trammel is a net, you can probably see where the meaning of this word is headed. If you are untrammeled, you are not held back or restrained; you are free to move, speak, and do just about anything that someone might otherwise want to restrain.

The sad reality is most of us remain trammeled in some sense (though “trammel”, as in the opposite of “untrammeled” is very rare). Yet, every now and then, we can feel untrammeled. Indeed, the word can be used to express emotions, and who has not, at some point, felt untrammeled joy?


This word might sound like something a jolly sailor aboard a twelve-mast ship might yell. But this word has nothing to do with direction—at least in the physical sense. To be wayward is to not listen to anyone and to want to do things your own way, even if it gets you into all sorts of trouble. This word—unsurprisingly—is often used to describe youth. The wayward son or daughter who, not listening to their parents, continues to make mistakes in life is a common staple in literature and movies. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn readily come to mind.


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