GRE Vocab Wednesday: Weird Sounding Words

There are some strange looking words in the English language. Quite a few of them appear on the GRE. Here is a handful!


This funny-looking word, which I believe is the only English word besides ‘kiwi’ to have the letters ‘iwi’ in a row, is derived from the word bailiff, a legal officer in charge of a certain area or jurisdiction. There are no felonious connotations with “bailiwick”, however. The word simply means one’s area of expertise. For instance, my bailiwick is knowing words like “bailiwick.”


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You can be eager, as in “I can’t wait till the weekend”, or you can be really eager that you can barely sit in your seat (“I can’t wait to see the new Game of Thrones season!!!). And what better word than one based on the Old French for fun (that word is gogue). So agog means super excited about something that is about to happen.


If it is a hot August night and you are next to a landfill, or if you are downwind from the gutter, you are likely to be assaulted by a noxious cloud of stench. That cloud is a miasma. Figuratively speaking, a miasma is any negative or unpleasant atmosphere that hangs around a place. A miasma of despair still haunts many countries that once lived under Stalinist oppression.


Whenever I see this word, I think of a Mexican dish or dessert. However, the word is not pronounced ca-ho-lay (nor, for that matter, does it have any culinary associations). It is pronounced cah-jol, and means to try to make somebody do something by constant flattery or coaxing. So if little kid wants a yummy Mexican dessert, he’ll cajole his mom (please, you’re the best mom ever) until he can have bite—or until his mom threatens to ground him.

April Fool’s! We aren’t done yet. This week, we’re throwing in some additional freaky-looking words for your enjoyment. 🙂


This word comes the Italian for the adornments you see during feasts. Okay, that sounds a little anachronistic, since most typically aren’t going to feasts these days in luxurious banquet halls. But if you were (or you still do), all around you will be fancy decorations on the wall. Ribbons fluttering in the air and other such royal frippery will meet your eyes. More generally speaking, to festoon something is to decorate it in a gaudy manner. Whenever I go to graduations, the walls and chairs (and just about anything that can’t object to being beribboned) are festooned.


Actually, this word isn’t that weird looking, but it does have a cool meaning if you know any Romance languages. The meaning, to bite, is anything but romantic and no longer applies to the physical act of biting but to humor that is biting and incisive. For mordant humor, few did it better than Jon Stewart. Check out any Daily Show sketch to see mordant humor.

Tell us which vocabulary themes you want Chris to write about! You can let us know by leaving a comment below.


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4 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Weird Sounding Words

  1. Prasad N R March 26, 2018 at 8:38 am #

    Hats off Chris. You are doing a real fantastic work there. I am agog over subscribing to Magoosh 149$ plan and hoping for 163 in Verbal (from 148). I am agog over your bailiwick of knowing words like “Bailiwick”.

    At one point, I felt depressed over my quixotic ambition of 160+ in verbal. But, you are making it so interesting and I am observing a smile despite that depression; That too with free videos!

    Thank you and that is why I am grateful to you.

  2. WALEED ELGRAWANI April 4, 2015 at 12:34 pm #


  3. Emily Young April 2, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Hello! I love taking a break from work on Wednesdays to check out the highlighted vocab on the GRE blog. I work in military intelligence (insert “What I think I do, What my parents think I do, What I actually do” meme), and I think there are probably a few words that fit the intel theme that would not only expand my GRE-prep vocabularly, but in using would also make me sound even smarter at work. Words that come to mind and that are of a similar theme are furtive, quisling (I stole that from the vocab app), surreptitious, discern, espy, etc. To be honest, my job really only involves tracking commercial fisherman with known violations, but I wish it was more in line with the words above.

    Thanks for making studying fun!


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 3, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

      Hi Emily,

      Thanks so much for suggesting that theme! And I liked hearing about your job–it might not be James Bond but it does sound interesting :).

      I’ll do a spy vs. spy style vocabulary post. Clandestine and reconnoiter are two other words I can add.

      Thanks again, and I’m happy you’re enjoying the weekly vocab 🙂

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