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GRE Vocab Wednesday: “Tricky Words”

Many words in English carry a connotation somewhere between playfully sneaky and downright deceptive. To help you avoid mistakes on the GRE, here are just a few such tricky words I had up my GRE sleeve!


A misleading word, since we tend to think of “art” as honest and pure, rendering the world in luscious brush stokes. Be that as it may, artifice comes from the old French “to make” and connotes deception. To engage in artifice is to take part in a sustained deception. A spy who must take on a false identity and gain the trust of others in order to deceive them is engaging in artifice.


There is a show called Game of Thrones, which I don’t watch, but that apparently is full of characters jockeying for power. They lie to each other (see “dissemble”) and try to win the favor of those whom they can use to their advantage. To be constantly involved in such schemes is to be involved in machinations — plots and deceptions.


If you noticed the serpent at the beginning of this word, you’ve hit on a useful mnemonic. Serpents, after all, aren’t known for their open, honest ways. Likewise, the word serpentine is all about cunning. Somebody known for their serpentine ways is likely to deceive you — watch out!


Not related to taking apart a Lego project (that would be “disassemble”), dissemble comes from the word semblance, which means “the outward appearance of something.” To dissemble is to put on a false face, a false external appearance, in order to mislead. If you hate somebody but you really need their help, you will force yourself to smile and charm them. You won’t be feeling warm feelings on the inside, though, which means you’ll be dissembling.


The other words were all tinged with the dark side of deception. “Surreptitious” is a little more benign and focuses more on the sneaky. For instance, if you don’t want to get caught while doing something wrong, then you are likely to act surreptitiously. Let’s say you have a sweet tooth that you tend to indulge late at night. If your significant other tends to chide you for this penchant, then you are likely to acquire and gobble down your treats in a stealthy manner. For the sake of a good mnemonic, let’s say syrup—straight from the bottle—is your thing. How will you go downstairs at midnight to open the fridge? Syrup-titiously!

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