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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Who’s the Boss?

The words below all relate to someone exercising power and authority over another person. Learn these words now, so they don’t boss you around!



‘Imperious’ doesn’t just mean authoritative; it describes somebody who assumes the role of boss without actually deserving that role. I remember a soccer coach I had. He would bark orders at beleaguered players, behaving like a Napoleon of the sidelines. The thing was he didn’t even know how to play soccer. He did know how to yell, though.



An autocrat is a ruler who has absolute power. To be autocratic you don’t have to wield a scepter and be perched on a throne. Simply boss others around, without giving any thought to their feelings or opinions.

Martha’s boss was so autocratic he told Martha that the only time she needed to express her views was when she was submitting her order for the office lunch.



This word comes from the Byzantine Empire. A despot was the title bestowed upon the son, or the heir-to-be, of the emperor. That is not to say all Turkish despots were despots; a despot was also a word from ancient Greek, meaning ‘lord’, and it is perhaps this derivation of the word that is truest to the word’s definition today: one who has absolute power and abuses it by mistreating those he rules.

The despotic rule of the rogue nation did not go unnoticed by the human rights watchdog, which exposed the barbaric tactics the country used on its own people.



‘Dictatorial’ is more similar to ‘autocratic’ and doesn’t carry the arbitrary use of power that ‘despot’ does. For instance, if you know somebody who shouts orders at other, and expects never to be questioned, then that person is acting in a dictatorial manner. If you have trouble remembering ‘dictatorial’, note that it is simply the adjective form of ‘dictator.’



An officious person is probably the least intimidating of these bossy words, but definitely the most annoying. To be ‘officious’ is to be domineering about totally trivial matters. I’m sure we’ve all had to fill out forms or stand in line. Usually the person who not so kindly asks us to do so is acting officiously.

As a seasoned traveler, Max dreaded having to cross borders; typically some officious clerk would detain him for hours mock-perusing Max’s passport. 



This is the only bossy word that does not describe an actual person. Instead, it describes an action or a gesture that leaves no doubt about the person’s intentions: that person does not want his/her command questioned.

The kids knew well that once their mother had peremptorily waved her finger at them, signaling it was time for bed, any protestation was futile.


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