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GRE Vocab Wednesdays: Surprising Double Meanings

Sure, you’ve probably come across many words with double—if not triple—meanings. Usually you probably dutifully make note of the secondary definition and move on. Some double meanings though are surprising, in that you would not expect the second definition of the word to be what is.



The pope decked out in the Vatican garb; hours long mass in Latin; the Reformation… We all have associations with the Catholic Church, a fact that perhaps speaks to how wide-ranging the church is. In that sense then, the second definition of catholic shouldn’t be too surprising: universal, all-embracing.

Unlike Vivian, who swooned over Monet’s water lilies, and held all other art was a degradation of the French master’s work, Abigail was far more catholic in her tastes: she gushed just effusively about the El Greco exhibit as she did the street art scattered throughout her neighborhood. 



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‘Obtain’ means to be customary, prevalent, which, ironically, is not the customary definition of the word obtain (we are all more familiar with the verb meaning to acquire).

In the Middle East sitting down and sharing tea with a total stranger obtains in most regions.

What obtains in high school—attending class each day, completing assignments on time—does not necessarily obtain in college: one can miss many classes and, as long as one does the reading, still get an ‘A.’



I have an awful cold at the moment, and am going around disposing gobs of Kleenexes into the nearest wastebasket. The second definition of ‘disposed’ has nothing to do with wastebaskets, or for that matter sinus infections. ‘Disposed’ means to be willing or inclined to do something. Well, given I have a cold I suppose I am not disposed to doing much.

Indisposed, by the way, means reluctant, unwilling.

Many of us are not as indisposed to sharing our information on-line as we’d hope—we often unwittingly allow online advertisers an intimate glimpse into our lives.



I’m talking neither Edison nor leather. ‘Patent’, as an adjective, means standing out, conspicuous. It is typically used to modify a negative word.

To my chagrin, he listened to my story about alien abduction with patent incredulity.

Charlie’s unfamiliarity with thermodynamics was patent to all those present, many of whom scowled derisively as he fudged the most basic tenets.



We are not talking about money here—the second definition of ‘afford’ means to offer up or provide an opportunity.

Three years of living in Bolivia afforded Michael a view into a culture very different from the one he had left behind in America.

The outdoor venue afforded ample seating, even for concerts that typically sold out elsewhere.


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