GRE Vocab Wednesday: That’s the Spirit!

The words below all relate to having lots of spirit. Nope, I’m not talking about ectoplasms, or hovering ghosts. I mean zest and vigor, determination and resourcefulness; that admixture of traits that make for success.



Back in the 19th Century, a doctor from Massachusetts came up with a soft drink that he said contained a mysterious ingredient his friend, Lieutenant Moxie, apparently found while traipsing through South America. Shady origins aside, the drink went on to become America’s number one selling soft drink. Whatever this magic ingredient was (can you say ‘coca leaves), it gave the Moxie drinker a large dose of energy and pep, and the sense that he or she could take on any obstacles that came their way.

The drink became known as Moxie, and we end up with the fun, informal word ‘moxie’, which means energy and initiative to take on life’s challenges.

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Hardly cowed by news reports of civil unrest, Gerard, with unflagging moxie, traveled to many of the world’s most dangerous countries, dodging guerrilla warfare and outright muggings.



This word does mean to go out your eyebrows with gusto. ‘Pluck’ is a noun, which means courage. The adjective form is even cuter: plucky. There used to be called a character called Plucky Duck. Since I was only a child at the time, I imagined him going around plucking the feathers off of other ducks. For some reason, I never questioned this droll interpretation. Now, I see that Plucky Duck was simply brave.

It took considerable pluck for the freshman to stand up in lecture hall and point out that the redoubtable professor had botched Einstein’s well-known equation: Em{c^2}.



No, this is not an eponym derived from everybody’s favorite cinematic simpleton, Forest Gump. Though, given the meaning of ‘gumption’, it very well could have. ‘Gumption’ means spirited resourcefulness. Sure, the going gets tough, but those who have ‘gumption’ keep fighting back with ever greater moxie, relying on their wits and resources to succeed.

Door to door sales truly requires gumption if one hopes to succeed; it is all too easy for even a plucky soul to lose heart after the hundredth rejection.



This word has nothing to do with ‘doubting.’ ‘Doughty’ is a synonym with ‘plucky’, and is often used in a humorous fashion. That is one would not call somebody who must combat real dangers as ‘doughty.’

On one-on-one Ping-Pong, she was a doughty opponent, chasing down each ball and returning serves with a formidable backhand.



To do something with relish and zest is to do it with gusto. I believe if you truly want to excel at something you don’t just need perseverance and grit; you need to do it with gusto. For instance, a student who sedulously studies words will surely do well on the GRE verbal. Add a dollop of gusto, and you have a student who will do very well.

Stanley lived each day—indeed each moment—with gusto, turning even an uneventful day at the DMV as an opportunity to chat with others in line.


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