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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Beyond Good and Evil

Both good and evil are readily apparent in our world. Yet as words they lack panache and vigor. Indeed, there are many other words in the English language that are a variant of these words—and pack far more of a semantic (and aesthetic) wallop.


To describe behavior that is downright immoral or evil, there are few words in the English language that have more panache than iniquitous. To add even more color to this word, the phrase “den of iniquity” is often used to describe a group of people—usually politicians—who engage in all kinds of unseemly behavior.



Often employed comically, nefarious is a word used to describe some dastardly villain. Think of any Disney movie, from Aladdin to Monsters University, and the antagonist is always some horribly wicked individual (who gets his—or her—comeuppance by the movie’s finale). More broadly speaking, nefarious means terribly evil.



This word fits in nicely theme-wise, though it may be a little bit too obscure for the GRE. Somebody who is flagitious is villainous and vile. A good example would be the character Tony Soprano (played by the recently departed James Gandolfini). If you’ve never seen the show, the character Tony Soprano would “off” anyone who dared get in his way, committing horridly criminal acts to do so.



Enough words meaning evil! Here is our first positive word. Munificent means very giving and generous, and comes from the Latin munus, meaning gift.

In times of economic prosperity, the munificent ruler rewarded his people by hosting weekly festivals, in which denizens could dance, drink and eat for free.



To be magnanimous is not just to be generous; it is to be kind and forgiving. A magnanimous person does not hold grudges, but finds it in his or her spirit to let bygones be bygones.

Though his opponent had tripped him twice on the field, Ricardo walked up to him at the end of the game and, in a magnanimous gesture, hugged him. 



This word might strike you as sounding negative, or at least vaguely technical. Altruistic describes a person who is not motivated by self-interest but by the well-being of others. If an altruist sees motorists stranded on the side of the road in a torrential rain, he doesn’t think, “Hmm…I’d probably get really wet if I stopped”, but rather “Those people could use my help.”

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