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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.
 

Lambaste

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.
 

Harangue

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.
 

Vituperate

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!
 

Inveigh

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.
 

Philippic

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.
 

Excoriate

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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