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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Curious Compounds

A compound word is one formed by two or more words. Teamwork, sportsmanship, townhouse are all common examples. Not so common words include the following GRE vocabulary. See if you can figure out the meaning of each word before looking at definition. Oftentimes, the sound and feel of the word is very consistent with its definition (which should make it easier for you to learn the words).


You might not think a “quag” is even a thing, but it’s actually an archaic word meaning swamp. Then there is “mire”, which basically amounts to the same thing: lots of muddy ground underfoot. Put them together and you get quagmire: swamp land.

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What’s interesting about this word—and pertinent to the GRE—is the second definition: a troublesome situation that is hard to get out of. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once went on the record saying that Iraq is a quagmire. Given that the United States is still embroiled in conflict there, Rumsfeld’s choice of words was apt. One could go so far to say that the situation there is an ‘Iraqmire’.


To coddle means to pamper or treat indulgently. A mother may coddle her child, indulging the child’s every wish. Her name need not be Molly to mollycoddle. Mollycoddle is simply an extreme form of coddle. If a teacher mollycoddles her students, she lets them get away with not doing any of their work.


If someone tells you that this word describes somebody dressed in armor (or clad in armor, as it were), their reasoning is anything but ironclad. The word has nothing to do with one’s get up — iron or otherwise. Rather, it describes logic that is impossible to disprove or contradiction. Ironclad arguments are ones that nobody could disagree. That world is round is one that leaps to mind (though you do always have the members of the “Flat Earth Society”.)


“Shod” is the past participle of the verb “to shoe”. If one is shod in leather slippers, one is wearing leather slippers. Speaking of “slip”, when one has shoes that are too loose and dragging at the heels, that footwear is slipshod — or at least that’s how the archaic definition had it. These days, slipshod describes anything that was created or constructed hastily, and carelessly. You probably wouldn’t want to enter a building that had slipshod construction standards. Slipshod can also describe a person. One who is slipshod in vocab preparation will take little time to learn effective methods.


This is a great word, but one that probably wouldn’t show up on the GRE. It does, however, allow me to talk about a very high frequency GRE word: obsequious. But first, I should probably mention what a “spittle” is. Saliva is the more commonly word for spittle, which today has been whittled down to “spit”. As far as licking it goes, well if you lick up somebody’s spit, you apparently kiss up to them in a very desperate manner.

So to be a lickspittle means to be pathetically obedient to those in a position of power. Think of privates in basic training doing everything the drill sergeant asks of them. Obsequious is an adjective that describes a lickspittle.


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3 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Curious Compounds

  1. Niketa kulkarni April 25, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks a lot. I enjoy learning words now. This site is brilliant plus fun. And love the video explanations you give.

  2. Linzy April 17, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    I love vocab Wednesdays. Thank you so much Magoosh team!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 18, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      Glad you’re enjoying it 🙂

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