GRE Vocab Wednesday– Words You May Not Know

Each week, I try to feature GRE words that aren’t overly difficult, but are likely to show up on the test. Sometimes, a difficult word will make it in the batch because it fits with the week’s theme, while still being somewhat likely to show up on the GRE.

For this week, I’ve chosen words that are simply difficult. Of course there is a chance that they could show up on the GRE; however, they are far from what I would call high-frequency. So if you don’t know any of the words, don’t despair. And if you know most of these words, well, then you have a mighty big vocab.


Apotheosis is already intimidating enough. The fact that it has two separate definitions makes this word even more redoubtable. The first definition—and the more common one—is the culmination or climax of something. It is typically used to describe someone’s at the top of his or her career, and the artistic product that got him or her there. For example:

Many consider Beethoven’s 9th symphony the apotheosis of the composer’s long and varied output.

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The other definition of apotheosis describes the elevation of a person to the level of a deity.

The Hawaii natives believed that Captain Cook, when he first arrived to Hawaii, was a god coming to visit him; his apotheosis was short lived, because when he return later in the year, the Hawaiians realized that Cook was no god and summarily executed him.


Sometimes what makes difficult words difficult is the fact that they look unlike any other words. With umbrage, perhaps the only thing that comes to mind in is umbrella. While that will help you with the archaic definition of umbrage (shade or shadow), umbrella will not cast any light on the common GRE meaning of umbrage: offense or annoyance. To complicate things, umbrage is embedded in the phrase to take umbrage at <something>.

Let’s say I’ve invited you to dinner and you show up two hours late. I would take umbrage at your tardiness. If umbrage is a confusing word, look up some other uses online, as I would not want you to take umbrage at the word umbrage.


This word may remind you of the word fun; it may even remind you of the word fungi. The word fungible, however, neither relates to a good time or mushrooms. If something is fungible it is easily replaceable. In fact, if one item is fungible with another one would hardly know the difference if you replace them.

Recently, my wife and I realized that our daughter’s favorite play doll—the one she calls “baby” and sleeps with each night—had gotten quite dirty, its hair a knotted mess, its limbs the color of soot. We tried washing “baby” (to no avail) and even tried to comb her hair (also to no avail). My wife finally decided to get an exact replica of baby. We simply switched “baby” out, without our daughter noticing. In other words, “baby”—though definitely not our baby—is fungible.



The connection between the etymology (which means the origin of a word) of cynosure, and cynosure’s meaning is fascinating. Cynosure comes from the Latin cynosure, which refers to the North Star, that big bright star in the sky, which sailors once used to guide their paths. Today, a cynosure is something dazzling that draws our attention and causes us to gape in awe: the 5-year old on Youtube ripping through a Vivaldi concerto; Usain Bolt sprinting to a new world record; the Queen of England.



Ever think how someone trying to sell you some obviously sham product (say Rolex watches or an iPhone rip-off) sounds like a duck? Well, the French clearly did, and they used it to describe something that was a hoax, or not real. The tie in is that the word canard is derived from an old French word for to quack (as in quack like a duck). The hoax definition of the word is a lot closer to today’s definition: a false rumor or report.

This may seem like a useless word—one that is not all that is “quacked” up to be, but you only have to look to the internet to see that canards abound. That is, we have difficulty trusting the veracity of much of what we read online, since we don’t always have a way of telling a canard from the truth.


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4 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday– Words You May Not Know

  1. Ana October 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Hey the video cuts out right after you bring up the board with “Canard” on it. No definition for canard or cynosure.

    But great blog and videos!

  2. Michelle August 30, 2013 at 6:54 am #

    Hi Chris!
    I remember “umbrage” because of Professor Umbridge from the Harry Potter books. She was very nasty woman, and she offended almost everyone she met throughout the series, especially Harry! So I think of how she made Harry feel: insulted and offended.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 30, 2013 at 9:44 am #

      That is a great mnemonic! Interestingly enough, the Harry Potter series is filled with GRE-level of vocabulary. Lots of it! So, hopefully I’m more genial than Umbridge in dispensing the following advice: read Harry Potter for vocab :)!

      • atir September 17, 2013 at 8:41 am #

        UmbRAGE has last 4 words as rage that helped me to understand that it deals with anger,with annoyance …… Thanks for your vocab Wednesdays Chris..really helpful ….maybe you should name it to “magooshday” 🙂

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