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GRE Vocab Wednesday: These Words Are a Scream


Nobody likes to get yelled at—no less be scolded so severely that they feel as though their skin has just been torn off. I know, quite a frightening visual. Interestingly, the English language is full of such words, many of which show up on the GRE.


I remember physical education in middle school. The gym teacher would always find some reason to lambaste me. That is, he’d criticize me harshly for keeping my butt too high in the air during push-ups. He’d lambaste for me for not running down a fly ball. Oh, the memories!

Interestingly, the etymology dictionary seems stymied on just where this word came from. It has nothing to do with Mary’s little pet getting screamed at or, for that matter, getting put in the oven. But that’s thing with English: a polyglot mongrel, it has bequeathed us words whose origins are lost in the murk of linguistic history! I guess I’m lambasting lambaste.


Sometimes my gym teacher would pull me into his office and say something to the effect of, “Lele, you need to start giving a damn out there!” These lengthy speeches, or harangues, would always cast me as unmotivated lout and include lots of spit and vitriol. Harangue can also be a verb.


This word isn’t nearly as common as its noun form, vituperation. Both describe a severe dressing down, one in which some violence might even occur. If you’ve ever seen the movies of the rabid drill sergeant standing three inches from the face of a new recruit, you have a mental snapshot of one person vituperating another. Now drop and give me 50, piss ant!


With this word, the person or thing you are screaming at doesn’t actually have to be present. Inveigh is actually closely related the verb rail, which means to bitterly and hostilely criticize somebody or something, usually when that thing isn’t present. To hear somebody inveighing against social injustices, you might need to walk farther than your local bus or train station.

Inveigh can also take written form. Almost every magazine and newspaper has a section where people can inveigh the editors (praise, though not as common, is also an option) for publishing a certain piece or taking a stand on a contentious issue.


This word comes to us via Greek history. Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, who became the object of one man’s scorn: Demosthenes. A famed orator, Demosthenes launched into bitter denunciations, or what today has become the word philippic (demosthenestic was too much of a mouthful). Basically, Demosthenes was not a big fan of Philip’s imperialistic notions, so he took every opportunity to stand up in the public square and inveigh against Philip.


Okay, this one is pretty vivid, and perhaps the most intense of the bunch. On a literal level it means to tear somebody’s skin off. Figuratively, this word means to criticize somebody so harshly that that somebody feels as though his or her skin has been torn off. Ouch!


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8 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: These Words Are a Scream

  1. Prasad N R April 1, 2018 at 7:06 am #

    I am a philippic and invective when I inveigh over the use of complicated words instead of simple words.

  2. Mireille May 2, 2015 at 11:37 am #

    …exactly what I needed to “hear” to bring light into the twilight! 🙂 Thanks for setting things straight for me once again! 🙂

    As for the picture, I eventually found my way around to get it to you. After all, that is why we have Facebook these days!

  3. Ammarah May 1, 2015 at 12:28 am #

    Hey chris,

    I am just the biggest fan of vocab Wednesday. Even though I’m done with GRE, I still don’t want to miss a single vocab Wednesday. The way you explain words is very interesting. Mnemonics makes vocab such a fun thing. 😀

    I would also like to thank Magoosh team for all the good work. It is simply the best source to prepare for Gre. Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 4, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

      Cool! I’m flattered to hear that you (and presumably others!) are watching Vocab Wed. even after they’re done with the test :).

      Glad to hear that Magoosh has been a positive experience all around for you!

      Best of luck 🙂

  4. Mireille April 30, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    …you read my mind once again, since for quite some time I had in mind to ask you do a post about this too abundant group of words. Why do we even have so much more when it comes to criticize someone than when it comes to praise some one?! That certainly tells a lot about a human beings, generally speaking.

    Anyways, I have all of those flashcards grouped together, my only dilemma is when it comes to sub-group them by “intensity”. I do get that “reprimand”, “admonish” are towards the beginning of the process (that is, when people did not reach the end of their rope yet) and words such as “excoriate” come at the last resort (when the end of the rope is already history!), but I have trouble appropriately “ranking” the main body of them, that is which is more intense than which?

    Lastly, this is a bit off topic, but is there any way I could attach a picture or two to one of my posts?



    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 1, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

      Hi Mireille,

      Good to hear from you again 🙂

      So, I wouldn’t worry about “ranking” these different words, since it is somewhat difficult to do because the nuances aren’t readily quantifiable and are a more of shades of meaning vs. intensity of meaning.

      My New Oxford English Dictionary does a good job of teasing out these subtleties:

      “If you want to go easy on someone, you can admonish or reproach, both of which indicate mild and sometimes kindly disapproval. To admonish is to warn or counsel someone, usually because a duty has been forgotten or might be forgotten in the future (: admonish her about leaving the key in the lock), while reproach also suggests mild criticism aimed at correcting a fault or pattern of misbehavior (: he was reproved for his lack of attention in class).

      If you want to express your disapproval formally or in public, use censure or reprimand. You can censure someone either directly or indirectly (: the judge censured the lawyer for violating courtroom procedures; a newspaper article that censured “deadbeat dads”), while reprimand suggests a direct confrontation (: reprimanded by his parole officer for leaving town without reporting his whereabouts).

      If you’re irritated enough to want to express your disapproval quite harshly and at some length, you can scold (: to scold a child for jaywalking).

      Rebuke is the harshest word of this group, meaning to criticize sharply or sternly, often in the midst of some action (: rebuke a carpenter for walking across an icy roof).”

      As for attaching pictures to comments, I don’t think we’re able to do that! Sorry :(.

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