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GRE Vocab Wednesday: “O” Words

Here are some tough ‘o’ words. My guess is that you might be familiar with a couple, but will be seeing a few for the very first time. If you can define all of these words without looking at the explanation, you truly have a formidable vocabulary. For the other 99% of us, you’ll want to make sure you know most of these. For those aiming for the hardest section, you’ll want to know all of them.


Oss- is the Latin for bone. On the literal level, it means just that: turning to bone. But we typically don’t care about the literal definition of a word when there is also a figurative one. To ossify, figuratively speaking, means to harden and become stagnant. The word is typically used to describe organizations that are no longer fresh and agile, but are stiff and resistant to change.

The do-it-yourself-government of the original colonies has long ossified into the political structure of Washington D.C.


Okay, this one is pretty uncommon. If you already have a massive vocabulary and know most of the words here, you might want to learn this. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother. So basically, what I’m saying is that otiose is, at least for most GRE aspirants, otiose: it serves no practical purpose or function.


The literal definition: oily and covered in grease. The figurative definition? I know, you are probably picturing an oil spill or the Fonz, a character from the 80’s show Happy Days, known for slicking his hair back with copious amounts of product.

Oleaginous, however, applies to one’s demeanor. Do you go out of your way to flatter people? I think all of us have been accosted by the oleaginous salesperson in a clothing store: “Hi, how are you doing? Is there anything special you are looking for today?”

In other words, that person is really nice but in a way that is totally insincere because he or she has a hidden—or not-so-hidden—agenda.


Perhaps you notice the ‘oracle’ part of the word. Though that might not help, since oracular doesn’t just mean pertaining to an oracle; it means enigmatic, difficult to interpret. A little light into the history of the oracle should make this etymology a little less oracular!

The oracle was a woman in Ancient Greek who resided in a temple and who, when asked questions about the future, would go into a deep trance, uttering mostly incomprehensible syllables. It is from this that we get the “difficult to interpret” meaning of the modern usage.

Modern economics is so steeped in jargon that, to the outsider, an economist speaks in oracular utterances.


Totally high-strung and stressed out? Well, you are probably overwrought. To be in a state of nervousness or agitation is to be overwrought. Waiting for your name to be called at a really yummy restaurant. The staff told you it would be 20 minutes—one hour ago. If you’re not overwrought (and really hungry), then you may not be human.


We like to mock celebrities (Miley, just what was up with that wrecking ball?) Usually, these transgressions are forgivable, but sometimes celebrities are such a mess that the public doesn’t just mock them but subjects them to public humiliation. Mention Lindsay Lohan and most can’t recall whether she is a singer or an actress. But we all know about the drugs, alcohol and jail time. Lindsay is a candidate for opprobrium: public disgrace resulting from a person’s shameful behavior.

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