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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Misleading and Commonly Confused Words

Over the last couple of years, there have been two recurring themes on vocab Wednesdays: misleading words (words that look like a common word but mean something totally different) and easily confusable words (two GRE words look very similar but mean something very different.

Today, I’ve tried to combine both those qualities, by choosing words that are misleading and look like other GRE words.


Burnish vs. Banish

To burnish does not mean to set on fire. To burnish means to polish up. Your resume looking a little underwhelming? Get a professional editor to burnish your resume.

If you don’t burnish your resume, you might feel as though you’ve been banished from the workforce altogether. To banish someone means to forcefully remove that person from your group, circle of sphere of influence.

In medieval times, those who had upset the king were often banished from the kingdom. Even Napoleon was banished to the island of Elba. And more recently, Edward Snowden, for divulging security information was banished to…well, who knows where he really is these days.


Garish vs. Garnish v. Garner

The first means flashy in a totally tasteless manner (a pink vest with leather pants and matching pink shoes); garnish means to embellish and make fancier, and usually applies to food; and garner means to gather or collect, usually approval. Can you figure out which sentence below takes which word.

Harry loves puttering around in his _________convertible, with its orange hub cabs and turquoise tailfin, but he has yet to _________ much goodwill from neighbors.


Redress vs. Regress

One would think that redress means to dress again. Believe it or not, that isn’t even a valid definition of the word. Redress only means one thing: to make something right. If I forget to do vocabulary Wed. one week, then I could redress this oversight, by having a double vocabulary Wed. the following week.

Regress means to return to a former—and usually inferior—state. Athletes who are in the off-season and pampering themselves usually regress physically (hence pre-season training). If I stopped using big GRE words every day, moved to Guatemala and spoke only Spanish, my vocab skills would soon regress to my pre-college days.


Deduce vs. Educe vs. Adduce

What the deuce?!? Yes, there are three words that end in “duce”. The first one—deduce—you are probably familiar with. To deduce something is to figure it out based on the available evidence. If I walk into my apartment and there are wet paw prints everywhere, I can deduce that my cat has once again dipped its feet in its water bowl and wandered about the house.

Educe, can also mean deduce, but usually has a different definition: to draw out or evoke a quality, one that is usually hidden. A master chef can educe from basic ingredients a meal so delightful as to please a discerning gastronome; an artist can educe the pathos and humanity of a sitting subject from the colors in his easel; a virtuoso pianist can educe complex tonal colors and moods  even from a modest upright.

Adduce, on the other hand, means to provide evidence in support of an argument or point. For instance, if my wife says there is no food in the house, she can underscore her point by opening up the pantry and refrigerator and showing me both are empty. In terms of disputes of facts, Google, the ultimate arbiter of truth, is often adduced to settle the matter.


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