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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Out of the Ordinary

For the last three few days, something very rare has happened in northern California: it has rained. Traditionally, the rain all but disappears around May, and any precipitation in June is a one-off casual shower. To have a decent amount of rain—over the course of three days—in June is something that may not have happened since the meteorological society began keeping data. To honor those events that are extremely unlikely to happen, I’ve gathered a few words.


An aberration is a deviation or departure from the normal. It is typically one that is unpleasant. For instance, a psychological aberration describes a state—such as schizoprenia—that is not common, and definitely not pleasant. From economics to sports, aberrations pop up wherever chance is involved. And when it comes to weather, chance—or freakish—occurrences are part of the process. As to whether rain in June is unwelcome, I guess it’s subjective.

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A word in which roots help us, anomaly is constructed from an-, meaning not, and normal (at least that is a convenient way to remember it. Nomalos actually means regular). An anomaly describes something unusual, but unlike aberrant, does not carry a negative connotation. If you enjoy spring weather—as most of us do—then three consecutive days of spring weather in winter is anomalous—hardly out of the ordinary, but most welcome.



A precedent is an occurrence that serves as an example or guide for future examples. Something that is unprecedented, more broadly speaking, has never been known to happen before. Though I’ve been focusing on northern California, unprecedented weather has been occurring throughout the U.S. The tornados in the mid-West are a testament to this.



If something doesn’t fit—especially if it is out of harmony with its surroundings—is incongruous. Lking out my window and watching pedestrians, in colorful rain boots, traipse through puddles is incongruous in the summer.


Finally, we have a word that actually can’t refer to the weather—though it does refer to something out of the ordinary. A person who is peculiar can be idiosyncratic; indeed, we call these peculiarities idiosyncrasies. A method or an approach that is not typical is idiosyncratic. Baseball pitchers who throw underhand are known for their idiosyncratic style (I’m sure this applies to cricket players as well!). Artists can have an idiosyncratic approach—anyone from Picasso to Lady Gage. Weather, though, can’t necessarily be idiosyncratic. Though I suppose a model for studying weather can be idiosyncratic if it differs significantly from other models. Of course, if I wear rain gear—purple galoshes and a snazzy pink poncho—on a sunny day, then I’m clearly idiosyncratic.

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