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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Pros and Cons

We usually think of words that begin with “pro-” as being just that: they are positive words exuding good cheer. The root “pro-” can have several meanings. Often, a word that begins with “pro-” doesn’t actually contain the root “pro-“. “Pro-” is part of larger word. Often, this larger word is not positive. A good example is the word “prosaic”, which means dull, unimaginative. (It’s been featured many times on Vocab Wed. so it’s not going to get special billing this time).

My advice: don’t start applying “pro-” as a root, unless applicable (which most of the times it not). Instead, learn the definitions of the words.



As an adjective, pronounced is used to describe something highly noticeable or conspicuous—and usually not in a good way. To walk with a pronounced limp implies that you’ve probably injured yourself badly. A pronounced dislike for something means you really don’t like it.



The root scribe conjures up the image of a bespectacled man hunched over a desk writing.  Interestingly, the root does apply to writing and “pro-” is used in the sense of forward. Yet, the word has a slightly negative ring to it; to proscribe is to ban or forbid. The Catholic Church, if it wanted to ban something, put the order in writing, hence the “scribe-” root. Of course, today, the Catholic Church isn’t the only one doing the proscribing. Governments, and just about any organization with power, will probably proscribe one thing or another.

Make sure not to mix this word up with prescribe, which means to offer a treatment.



The word prognosis is hidden in there. Really, prognosticate—which is neutral in tone—is little more than a verb form of that word; it’s implications, though, are a little broader. With prognosticating, we are not just talking about a doctor. Any prediction about how things will turn out is a prognostication. Pundits will prognosticate on a range of different topics: the outcome of an election, the course of the economy, who will win the next World Cup.



Often if we find something we like—a new restaurant, a T.V. show—we want to promote it and tell everyone we know about it. To promulgate means to make widely known, and is reserved more for official contexts. A year ago Obama promulgated his health care reform with the use of a website. Maybe you workplace is going to promulgate a new fitness program to get everybody exercising. In both cases, just because you promulgate something doesn’t mean people are going to follow along.

The word is neither negative nor positive, but neutral in connotation.



The provinces might seem like a nice bucolic place for a weekend getaway, but you don’t want to be called provincial. Apparently, those cut off from the big ideas of the big cities tend to become more narrow-minded in their views and positions. Provincial doesn’t just describe those who live in the boondocks, but anybody who has a narrow view of something.


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