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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Talking Words

To sample the variety of ways humans speak, one only needs to turn on the T.V. There are the viragos of the daytime soaps; the stentorian roar of the sports broadcaster; and the fervid enunciation of the televangelist. Keep flipping the channel long enough, you are bound to encounter examples of the words below.



A pontiff is another name for a pope. And when the pope talks people listen. The connotation with the word ‘pontiff’, however, is not very flattering. Apparently some former pope was not only renowned for drawing large crowds, but for speaking with his chest puffed out, declaiming upon matters in an annoyingly arrogant way.

Today, we have the word ‘pontificate’, which can apply the lowliest pauper or the most vociferous atheist. As long as that person is voicing his opinion in a pompously annoying manner, he, or she, is pontificating.



Sententious, unlike the verb ‘pontificate’, is an adjective. In terms of meaning, though, the two words are similar: ‘sententious’ describes somebody who pontificates. Really the only difference is a person who is being sententious isn’t just prattling on about his or her beliefs but is also being preachy and moralistic.



We’ve all seen them—politicians accused of something incriminating who, through some preternatural ability, are able to avoid the issue. This ability has a name: it’s called prevarication. In other words, to prevaricate is to evade telling the truth.  And while politicians have turned it into an art form, prevarication has, at some point, flowed from most of our lips.



To equivocate is to not answer a question directly, and thus the word shares a lot in common with prevaricate. However, ‘equivocate’ is more focused on intentional ambiguity. For instance, many teenagers are prone to equivocate when their parents grill them: “Where did you go last night”, “I went out.”



The etymology of the word ‘maunder’ is much like the definition of the word. Apparently ‘maunder’ came from Middle French ‘miende’, which means to beg. This definition comes from ‘mendicant’ (a previous vocab Wed. word), which is from the Latin for ‘beggar’ (a meaning that is unchanged today).

Quite a rambling account of the history of a word. Speaking of which, ‘maunder’ means to ramble, chatting in an idle fashion. I often find myself maundering on long road trips—something I’m sure my “car mates” aren’t always fond of.



What happens when everybody is maundering and the conversation becomes interminable and directionless. Well, such rambling discourse is palaver. ‘Palaver’ can also be used as a verb. If one ‘palaver’s’, one talks on and on, and on and on, and a little more on and on, and…


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