GRE Vocab Wednesday: Words from the New Yorker

This time of year people start thinking turkey (at least in the U.S.), and the saccharine jingle of the Christmas carol is never too far away. For me, though, I have other associations with mid-November: lots of people taking the GRE and the release of the year’s best movies.

What better place for those two rather idiosyncratic and seemingly disparate associations to merge? Well, the New Yorker movie review section, in which big vocabulary meets big movies.

The following words are taken from the New Yorker’s review of Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated next movie — after the universally loved Inception, that is.


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You’d be mistaken in thinking that this word describes somebody ready to conquer the GRE. Instead, think of your mood as 6:46 a.m. as you press the snooze button the second time. Or stand in the way of a cat and his midday tuna treat and you’ll get an idea of testiness. So don’t test anybody who is testy, or you are likely to experience a nasty dose of anger (or even a claw!).


If you know the adjective “arcane”, this word should definitely not be arcana.  Just in case GRE vocabulary is not your thing, arcane means mean mysterious/secret (the arcane rituals of fraternities) and arcana are any interesting secret or mysterious facts. Tax codes seemed filled with arcana, as do the writings of quantum physicists (just what is a ‘quark’?)


A less than flattering word, impish is used to describe somebody who likes to behave naughtily. Indeed, at one time the word was used to describe somebody who was the devil’s child. But you don’t need to be that naughty, to be described as impish. If a boy hides his five-year-old sister’s birthday cake on the big day, he is being impish.


During any major sporting event, a range of emotions is on display for the two teams playing. You’ll have those who begin rooting for a team only once it is already in the championship game. On the other extreme, you’ll have those fans that have been supporting their team from the very beginning of the season. These last are highly fervent—sweating at every pitch, punt, blocked goal, or whatever the case may be. And if their team ends up winning, such fervency can often spillover into the chaos of unbridled revelry.

The passion and intensity inherent in fervency are not just on display on the sporting field. Come election time, almost every one of us fervently supports—or fervently opposes—one of the candidates.


When we are young and things don’t go our way, we start to complain and whine usually in a high-pitched manner. That is, we are being querulous. Of course, many of us—depending on the circumstances—don’t even have to be small children to complain querulously. Just put an average adult in rush hour traffic and you will have a cacophony of querulousness for much of the commute.


Any giant undertaking or task can be described as prodigious. Learning GRE from scratch? Definitely a prodigious undertaking. Prodigious can be used to describe any large amount. A prodigious number of words are on the GRE; my use of GRE examples in Vocabulary Wednesday posts is prodigious.


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6 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Words from the New Yorker

  1. Prasad N R April 7, 2018 at 6:19 am #

    Arcana of impish words like “impish” can make people go testy and querulous.

  2. Ishmam November 18, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I just have a quick question:

    The words that you introduce in Vocab Wednesdays, are these words also included within the Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flash Cards? Or the flashcards actually exclude these words?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 19, 2014 at 10:22 am #

      Hi Ishman,

      The words in the flashcards are from “old” Vocab Wed. I’d say any Vocab. Wed. in the last year should include words not included in the flashcards, with a few exceptions, of course.

      Hope that helps 🙂

  3. Naveed Rehman November 14, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    Hi Chris ,

    I am a subscriber of Newyork times .I am just asking which page i should read from NYTimes for Gre Vocabulary and RC . .you mentioned earlier on this blog that NYtimes opinion page is useful for SAT students not for Gre .But on the other hand you strongly recommend NYtimes for reading for Gre . .Please clear this confusion and also recommend me the pages on NYtimes where i should spend my time most .
    I am also intersted in fiction and nonfiction reading .and planing to read at least five books from fiction and five from non fiction till march 2015 ( i am due to appear for the Gre test in March 2015) .Can you help me listing me that five books from fiction and five from nonfiction .That would be a great help.
    Best wish
    Naveed Rehman

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 19, 2014 at 10:31 am #

      Hi Naveed,

      That’s a great question! The op-ed pieces are fine as well, but there are denser parts/more GRE-like writing in other parts of the paper. Reviews are always a great source of vocabulary. Movie, music, theater, and book (esp. book) reviews are awash in verbosity (in a good way :)). The Sunday Review makes for excellent yet challenging reading.

      For works of fiction, it really depends what you like. For vocabulary, British writers are great. Orwell and Huxley come to mind. If you like something more modern, Ian McEwan is good. Mid-century American writers–Updike, Mailer, Vidal–loved big words.

      For non-fiction, wow…where to start :). If you like science, the “Best of Series” is great. For astronomy, check out writers like Timothy Ferris, Alan Lightman, and Brian Greene. For something far different, travel writer Paul Theroux is an excellent writer who deploys GRE-level words as he travels to far-flung locales. “Into the Wild” by John Krakeur also makes for good adventure/intellectual reading.

      Hope that is enough to get you going 🙂

      • Naveed November 20, 2014 at 10:42 am #

        Thank you so much for your reply and for being helpful .you people are doing really great job .Kudos to You and all your team .

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