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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Harmful Words

Sometimes words just sound like what they mean. The words below are a good example. There is something about them that gives one pause, that perhaps leads one to think, hey, these words are dangerous, I better stay away from them.

Indeed, each word, to varying degrees, is a mixture of harmful, destructive, or hostile.  For those Harry Potter fans, saying these words almost sounds like you are casting a diabolical incantation. But don’t worry—knowing them will actually help you on the GRE (and to the best of my knowledge nobody has been turned into a frog as a result of these words passing from another’s lips!).



Pernicious is similar to insidious, which means have a harmful, but subtle effect. It is usually used to describe something abstract, such as influences. There is an ailment called pernicious anemia, which affects the blood. As you can guess, this can be very harmful.

Some contend that unlimited access to movies will have a pernicious effect; more than ever, students will fritter away their time.



An unfriendly environment can be deemed inimical. For instance, a dark closet is pretty inimical for a houseplant. Venus, with its scorching surface temperatures, is inimical to human life.

‘Inimical’ can also be synonymous with ‘antagonistic.’

Since our political ideals clashed, it soon became readily apparent that our long-term aims for the committee were inimical to each other.  



‘Invidious’ is slightly different from the other words in this list. Often it is coupled with ‘comparisons.’ Invidious comparisons are those that are unfair.

‘Invidious’ can also refer to any situation that is likely to cause resentment.

The ideologues regarded the media’s descriptions of them as fascist an invidious comparison to the totalitarian regimes of the mid-20th century.



A threatening glance can be ‘baleful.’ Add to that anything with a pernicious influence: drugs, gossip, and the Internet.

Baleful can also mean ominous. The moon can be baleful, at least on certain nights.

Especially in the last thirty years, the baleful effects of drugs have reverberated throughout the country.

His invidious comparisons are going to have a baleful impact on his bid for public office.


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