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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Words about Words

Words can describe almost anything we think up, so it is perhaps not too surprising that there is a subset of words that describe words themselves—how they are deployed (or not), how they can alter our perception, and how they can make us smile and ponder all at once.


We’ve all been guilty of uttering a platitude. Though we might believe we are expressing something profound and original, we are often saying—word-for-word—what’s been said many times before. In this regard, a platitude is a lot like a cliché. But instead of your run-of-the-mill, “life is short,” or “don’t give up,” the platitude takes on the more solemn tone of somebody imparting a moral: “everything happens for a reason” is a repeat offender.


This word is an eponym, which means it is derived from a person’s name. The person in this case is the 19th century philanthropist Thomas Bowdler, who had the noble, if somewhat slightly misguided notion, of censoring William Shakespeare’s works so as to make them more palatable for women and children. On the surface such an undertaking might sound silly, but we must remember that Shakespeare was very fond of the scatological and perverse, his works often reading like exalted potty humor. In honor of removing the objectionable parts, Mr. Bowdler, has the %&# distinction of the word “bowdlerize,” which means to censor or—and here is another great %#&@ GRE word—to expurgate.


A phrase, term, or a label that carries with it a negative connotation is considered a pejorative. This label need not necessarily be an outright insult. In fact, it can be a very neutral word that, over time, has taken on a slightly negative meaning. For instance, “permissive” means to allow another person to do something. Yet over the years the word has taken on a negative tinge. A permissive parent isn’t one who just allows his or her child do something; he or she has likely let the child run rampant.

Interestingly, pejorative terms abound in the world of careers: “garbage man” is a pejorative for sanitation worker; “shrink” is a pejorative for psychiatrist. Of course there is “escort,” which at one time carried the innocuous label of a chaperone. Today, an escort is ah….well, I don’t think Mr. Bowdler will let me write that word here.


For those of you who remember high school chemistry, you might recall that this word is a compound of the element bromine and another element. However, the GRE is not testing the chemistry definition. Bromide actually has a second definition: a trite saying meant to offer comfort. For instance, if you are feeling ill, many well-meaning types are quick to offer a bromide, “get better!” or “I hear it’s going around this year.” While full of the best intentions, none of these expressions does anything to remedy the underlying condition.


This word is no unit of measurement halfway between a gram and a kilogram. Rather, an epigram is a concise and clever expression. When we hear one, we are apt to think: Oh, that was quite witty—and profound! The 19th century wit Oscar Wilde was known for his epigrams. One such epigram attributed to him is: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” (Obviously, Mr. Wilde does not suffer the latter fate.) While this quotes smacks of cheekiness, epigrams can also be deployed in earnest, as this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt shows: “It is better to light the candle than curse the darkness.”


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15 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Words about Words

  1. Rishi January 19, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    Need your suggestion, it would be great if you can suggest.
    If I would want to study good strategy for RC/TC/SE and practice RC/TC/SE, which book would be good/suitable to follow. I would definitely want to practice RC/TC/SE questions which are closest to the actual ETS gre.
    Can I consider the MGRE books for the above purpose. (I know there are 2 books only)
    1. The Reading Comprehension & Essays GRE Strategy Guide
    2. The Text Completion & Sentence Equivalence GRE Strategy Guide

    If there are any other books in your opinion which are better than the MGRE ones , can you please suggest the same Chris?

    And many thanks for the magoosh vocab ebook, its helpful.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

      Hi Rishi,

      The MGRE Reading Comp. book is pretty good. And while I like the strategies in the TC/SE guide, I don’t think the questions are similar to the ETS test. The MGRE questions rely on ridiculously difficult words. ETS does not (it uses relies on difficult sentence structure).

      As for books, I’m reviewing a Barron’s GRE book, which looks pretty good. It’s the 6 GRE practice tests. Again, I’ll have to explore the book a little more deeply to give more of an endorsement.

      That said, for the most accurate GRE SE/TC prep out there–and of course I’m bias in saying this–you can’t do better than Magoosh:

      Hope that helps, and let me know if you have any more questions :).

  2. Maurice January 14, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    What would be a good place to find some of the more difficult vocab you would likely see if you did well on the first vocab section of the GRE?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 15, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      Good question!

      Manhattan GRE has an advanced vocabulary list at the back of its SE/TC guide–though frankly some of the words are a little too obscure for the current GRE.

      I cover quite a few advanced words in our ebook:

      Then there are the words in our product, many of which could pop up in the more difficult section (

      That should definitely give you enough tough vocab fodder to handle the grueling difficult section :).

      • Maurice January 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

        I have the Manhattan series and I agree. I didn’t find the word list very useful but the strategies were very helpful.

        • Chris Lele
          Chris January 15, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

          You know, you may also want to check out and search for GRE words, including Magoosh’s. Hope that helps you find some of the more difficult words :).

  3. Yaman Arora January 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    Hey chris,
    while surfing through many of your posts here,i have seen you mention the fact that one should avoid vocabulary building using roots.
    I am reading Word Power made easy by norman lewis,as you might have heard of it,and i am now vacillating,not knowing if i should continue with it or not.
    I have 3 months till my GRE,and have just begun wit my prep.So,it would be so very kind of you if you could tell me what to do regarding my vocab,should i pursue norman lewis or not.
    Any other tips regarding vocab building so i can get started in the right direction would be immensely helpful!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

      Hi Yaman,

      I’d only recommend learning roots if you’re English is at a very basic level and you are just embarking on vocab. Perhaps an even more important point is knowing that word roots can be very helpful in learning a specific word, but downright dangerous when you start applying those roots to unknown words (oftentimes that backfires).

      That said, if you feel Word Power is working for you, i.e., it is interesting, fun, and, perhaps most importantly, you remember the words, then continue using it. On the other hand if you feel that learning using WP is becoming tedious, then by all means choose a different source. A great trove of vocabulary-related info. is our vocab ebook. Check it out :):

      • Yaman Arora January 8, 2013 at 3:43 am #

        Word power is working for me.I think its a great way to build vocab.
        And,yes,i do realize that i shouldnt use the roots to infer meaning of the words which i come across for the first time.Have already read it somewhere in one of your posts only 😀
        I also have the magoosh vocab e-book,will start reading it asap.
        Any other things you’d suggest so i can get a good start for my preparations ahead?

        • Chris Lele
          Chris January 8, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

          Good question!

          Make sure to quiz yourself constantly on words you are learning. Sometimes people work their way through Word Power (or any vocab book, for that matter), a chapter at a time, so that by the end they’ve forgotten most of what they’ve learned. (Flashcards on are also great – which you’ve probably already read somewhere on this blog :)).

          Good luck, and don’t hesitate to ask any more questions!

          • Yaman Arora January 9, 2013 at 4:09 am #

            Thank you so much for that.Will keep that in mind.
            Being an engineer,i dont have much trouble with math as you might expect but my verbal really needs some serious practice.
            I am studying Verbal workout for the new GRE by Princeton Review.Do you reckon its a good place where i can find effective strategies for my verbal section.
            Have read your review for Cracking the GRE by PR and since you mentioned there too that PR offers good strategies for Verbal,am guessing this book that i mentioned is no different.
            I have so much material to choose from,its been overwhelming literally.So,the main thing i want to do is sort the material starting from the highest priority,speaking of which,i also have MGRE’s verbal books.
            Which should i pursue out of PR and MGRE for verbal and where should i look for further practice.
            Now,I hope this long text doesnt stop you from giving the answer to many questions i asked 🙂
            Thanks!! 😀

            • Chris Lele
              Chris January 10, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

              Hi Yaman,

              Those are all good questions! So the PR book I was talking about was the general guide. It offers helpful, big-picture strategies. Otherwise, the questions tend to be much easier than what you’ll see on the actual test.

              For specific strategies and questions similar to the test questions, MGRE is a much better bet (remember, the online tests have the questions that are somewhat similar to the actual test).

              And don’t forget Magoosh – we offer specific strategies and over a 1,000 true-to-the-test questions, which each have their own in-depth explanation :):


              Hope that helps!

              • Yaman Arora January 12, 2013 at 11:32 am #

                Thank you so much for the tips. 🙂

  4. Maurice January 5, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    I know this is totally unrelated but do you think you could post another article about words with double meanings?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

      Great idea :)! I will definitely post one in this month.

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