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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Holy Words

A number of words come to us from the world of religion. Indeed this is already my second post that takes words originally used in a religious context but now typically used in more general contexts.



To attempt to convert someone to your religion is to proselytize that person. In a more general context, ‘proselytize’ means to try to win anyone over to your way of thinking.

Proselytize can also mean to promote or endorse an idea of way of thinking.

Michael’s attempt to proselytize his girlfriend to Marxism utterly backfired when, instead of moving into a commune with him, she broke up with him and went to business school.



Perhaps you’ve seen paintings of saints. They smile benignly, in way that implies they are blessed. More generally speaking, anyone who radiates a blissful happiness—like the Buddha—is beatific. For whatever reason, the word typically modifies the word ‘smile.’

After months of hard work, Terrence left the testing score wearing a beatific smile: he’d received a perfect score on his GRE.



To venerate means to worship, or esteem greatly (as in to venerate God). Used outside of a religious context, ‘venerate’ doesn’t really change its meaning. If you venerate someone you worship that person. The connotation is positive.

The adjective ‘venerable’ is usually used to describe somebody who is old and commands a lot of respect, e.g., the venerable Supreme Court Justice handed down a wise verdict).

Martin Luther King Jr. is venerated throughout the United States for the pivotal role he played in the civil rights movement.



An acolyte is the person who assists the most important person in a religious service. For instance, if you are in a Catholic church and you see several attendants helping the priest during a ritual, these are the acolytes. The word, as its used in a broader sense, has acquired a pejorative connotation. An acolyte is a groupie, somebody who follows and venerates another person.

While Steve Jobs has many acolytes, many wonder if any of them will bring the gumption and vision that Jobs brought to Apple.



In churches, there are these little indentations or cubbyholes in the wall, in which small religious statues are usually placed. This definition is very different from the definition of niche as it used colloquially. A ‘niche’ is a specific type of job or role that one excels at.

Always a great entertainer, and never one who felt comfortable in the corporate world, Harold found his niche hawking useless items on the homeshopping network.



This is an interesting word, one that doesn’t come from the Christian context above. Hegira describes Muhammad’s flight from Mecca. To avoid a plot to assassinate him, Muhammad fled with his right hand man to the city of Medina. Today, hegira can also be used to describe any exodus, from a place that is dangerous or untoward to one that is favorable.

The hegira of the affluent class to the suburb has seemingly been reversed in the last ten years, as gentrification has made the city center once again an enviable place to live.


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