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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Dial “M” for Vocab

Up till now—two years in counting—we’ve had a myriad of ‘M’ words: maudlin, mawkish, monolithic, maunder, etc. Yet, there are still myriad more words to learn (and I assume that before you do so you’ll already know the definition of high-frequency words such as mitigate, maintain, and munificent—all former words on Vocab Wednesday).


Diverse, various, numerous, varied, many—the word multifarious itself takes on a multifarious definition, if you consult the thesaurus. The contexts for this word are multifarious too. The English language is a motley, multifarious mongrel, taking words from over a 100 other languages. You might engage in multifarious activities. The offerings at most universities are multifarious, ranging from Renaissance poetry to quantum computing.


Not at all a common word, but it is related to a common GRE word: ameliorate, which means to make something bad less so. Often, by adding an a- to the front of a word we make the word the opposite of what it originally meant (e.g., typical and atypical). This reversing the meaning of the word is definitely not the case with meliorate, which means the exact same thing as ameliorate—just in case the test writers try to throw a screwball at you.


A magistrate is a person who acts as a judge for lower level offenses. Such a person tends to have an authoritative air, and probably whacked the gavel pretty darn hard. From this scary authority figure we get the word magisterial, which means behaving in an authoritative and domineering fashion.


From the root magnus, which means great, and loqus, which means word, we get a word that doesn’t actually mean using big words (that would be the non-GRE word sesquipedalian). Instead, being magniloquent is about puffing out one’s chest and trying to sound impressive. Politicians, especially those with low approval ratings, tend to be magniloquent.


A word that is more common to poetry than to prose, mien describes one’s facial appearance. The word more common in everyday prose is demeanor.

With his chin held highly and his eyes cast down slightly, his mien spoke of a noble bearing, and his magniloquence spoke of an even higher self-regard.


A frog’s milieu is water, or land, depending on the time of day. Man’s milieu tends to be land, unless you’re Michael Phelps. Milieu, though, is typically used to describe one’s social environment, and in that sense frog’s milieu would be one of lily pads.

In the human sphere, many movements in history take off because of the specific milieu. The milieu of 1920’s Paris was an exciting one for artists. There, many of the great minds came together in sidewalk cafes, Picasso rubbing elbows with Matisse, Hemingway having a drink with Fitzgerald. Without this milieu to spark creativity, we would be out a few great reads and more than a few masterpieces.


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