GRE Vocab Wednesday: Traveling Words

Last week, I took a trip to London and Paris with my wife and two-year old. If you know anything about being a parent, you’ll easily relate to the fact that taking a two-year-old anywhere, even for a routine trip the store, can be a daunting prospect. Dragging a two-year-old around on a whirlwind trip to London and Paris—with a three-day wedding thrown in there—was downright arduous. In honor of travel, tantrum-throwing two-year olds, and the general stress that all entails here are a few words.



Travail means a painful effort. Travel of the non-Hawaii, beach resort kind is fraught with travail. Indeed, the root of the word travel comes from the word travail. Hundreds of years ago when people traveled they had to do deal with travails of all kinds: horse carriages lodged in the muck, highwaymen ready to descend upon them at every turn, and the local outbreak of cholera. There was little to traveling that wasn’t travail.

Our trip was quickly beset with travail: just as we were leaving the house, our toddler decided to remove her diaper (I’ll leave the rest to the reader’s imagination).   



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Etymologically, this is a curious word. It’s derived from a philosopher of the Aristotelian school. Not known for frequent flyer mileage, these philosophers were known for walking about from place to place as they engaged in protracted philosophical disputes, whether with an interlocutor or the many voices in their heads. Today, the word is more broadly used to describe anyone who travels from place to place on foot.

During our peripatetic forays into London, my wife and I dragged a stroller along with us, in case our daughter fell asleep (and allowed her parents a much needed respite). 



A fun word, which is probably a little too rare for the GRE, is peregrination. It’s a slightly comical way of saying journey. So if you want to infuse some humor or irony into your prose, you can try the following, e.g., Bernie Madoff’s sundry peregrinations across the country to drum up support for his “business venture”.

My daughter’s various peregrinations were limited to pedestrian boulevards and a five-foot radius of her out-of-breath parents.



A close cousin of frantic, frenetic implies lots of wild and chaotic movement. The word is derived from the Greek phrenitis, which means delirium (phren- in Greek means mind, e.g. schizophrenia means “split mind”.)

Merely jumping into a cab was a frenetic activity: we had to fold-up a stroller laden with British chocolates and various knick-knacks, prevent our toddler from running into oncoming traffic, and manage to squeeze into cramped quarters, all while the meter was running.



Toddlers tend to be two things: ridiculously cute and highly theatrical. Constantly on the move and in an unpredictable environment, a two-year old will most likely indulge in the latter—being histrionic. Histrionic comes from the Latin, histrionicus, and means actor.  But to engage in histrionics is to become overly theatrical—in short, to throw a fit.

Our toddler watched bemused from her stroller, as my wife and I engaged in various histrionics as we barely caught our departing train.



For all its tumult and uncertainty, travel is the ultimate vicarious activity. That is we can experience second-hand, through television or writing, the thrill of traveling. Rick Steves is a travel writer who has a weekly segment on PBS detailing his trips through Europe. He deftly interweaves history into his peregrinations, adding a dash of the local life. I always look forward to the vicarious thrill of traveling with Rick Steves.

For all the frenetic activity, there were a few minutes when my family and I were able to enjoy ourselves—watching the Seine amiably rolling by, unwinding in a verdant park equipped with a whimsical playground; but for now, I think I’ll enjoy travel vicariously, by tuning in to Rick Steves.  


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6 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Traveling Words

  1. Vi June 13, 2014 at 7:04 am #

    Hi Chris! I tried to leave a message last time, I don’t know why it didn’t go through, so I’m posting it again (not sure if this is the right place). I’m in need of some advice… I’ve always been a very mediocre test taker my whole life when it comes to standardized tests. On both the SAT and ACT, I remember scoring around the 50th percentile back in high school. I absolutely hate studying for these exams so I simply just don’t do it, but those days are long gone. I can’t get into my *dream* graduate program with mediocre scores anymore – I need at least a 315 on the GRE. I have approximately 4 months to study before I take the test – do you think a 315 is doable for someone who isn’t very good at taking these tests? I bought the official GRE Guide by ETS (2nd edition), since many people recommended it. I was wondering if you have any other advice, as far as studying goes? I’m probably equally bad at both the verbal and math portions – probably worse at verbal reasoning. Do you think 4 months is enough time?

    Please help! Thanks!!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 13, 2014 at 11:45 am #

      Hi Vi,

      Don’t worry–studying for GRE is not as bad as you may think. I’m not saying it’s unicorns and rainbows :), but as long as you learn the strategies and apply them effectively–and watch your score increase–you may find it sort of fun.

      Specifically, students actually end up really enjoying vocab study. At Magoosh we have free flashcards and my weekly Vocab Wed. post and youtube video (I try to make learning as painless as possible.

      In terms of actual questions, the ETS guide is great. But for strategies, you might want to try Manhattan GRE, Magoosh (that’s us) or Barron’s.

      To give you more structure, you should check out our study guides:

      Hope that helps, and good luck 🙂

  2. Gre340 June 9, 2014 at 1:39 am #

    I formed a sentence using these words. Please let me know whether the usage and placing of the words is appropriate.

    “If you cannot take time off from work to venture into the Baltic Sea or go on peripatetic peregrinations in Machu Pichu, then TLC is the next best thing which enables you to enjoy these exotic places vicariously without the added frenetic and travails of the actual trip.”

    Thank you!

  3. Mireille June 6, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    …so strange. Two of the words you chose are actually in the lists I was going through these days!! 🙂 I’m almost done with my first battle with the words, just done with Advanced IV, then 3 more lists to go. Then I have to start all over, make sure I still remember what I studied…

    ‘Peripatetic’ is in the list I just finished studying today, ‘histrionic’ in the one before. It was a word I had an extensive chat on with a good friend of mine these days — I think we all have that certain person with a histrionic personality disorder in our immediate vicinity! :)) Definitely a word you can build passionate essays around ! 😉 Then…to see it once again in your most recent post! 😀 Yeah…I think I have enough mnemonics for this word already! :))

    PS — Glad to have you back home safe! I certainly can relate — we also have a toddler (a year and a half) and it can be stressful keeping an eye on her even in familiar settings. Leave alone the Unknown, which can be a double sword — you on one hand, trying to figure out things and get some sort of control over things, then the toddler on the other, powered by curiosity and excitement. A simply dreadful combination.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 11, 2014 at 11:52 am #

      Hi Mireille,

      It sounds like you can relate to the whole toddler thing :). For our next vacation, my wife and I are planning to stay in some enclosed resort where we can focus most of our attention on watching/entertaining our daughter. No more “Euro-hopping” for us :0.

      Seems like there is lots of synchronicity in your vocab studies (though I’m guessing “synchronicity” hasn’t been one of your vocab words lately :)). Hopefully, you see both histrionic and peripatetic on the test, but at no point become histrionic and peripatetic (and walk out during the test :). Just kidding, I have hunch you are going to do really well :).

      • Mireille June 11, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

        Hi Chris!

        Yes, indeed. A lot of synchro- (I’d better do a copy and paste here!) 😀 :)). But I did spend some time with serendipity lately, if that will give me any redemption in your eyes! LOL

        …anyways, I just noticed, even in this Wednesday’s post you had a couple of words — again — one from the list I was just done studying, one from the previous one (inequity, respectively ineffable). 🙂

        Thanks for implanting positive ideas into my brain… verbal doesn’t quite paralyzes me when I think about it, but math does it to me brilliantly. 😀 But I will fight this monster until the end, Chris! I even have a plan: if after watching a few tens of videos on Magoosh, things don’t seem to click for me, I am going to retreat my troops in Dreambox — our daughter has an account with them through the school district and I guess I’ll just have to hijack her account and learn my times tables in there! LOL A way or another, I’ll show up on Test Day and I won’t even forget my sword home! :))))))))

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