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GRE Vocab Wednesday: ‘P’ Words

There are such a plentitude of ‘p’ words—a veritable plethora—that even I was surprised at how many high-frequency ‘p’ words have yet to be featured in Vocab Wed. Though I only highlight a few words in this post, I hope doing so partially redress my general lack of ‘p’ words. I even went so far as to include seven vocabulary words and not the usual six—how is that for plentitude!


We’ve all seen an impressive array of objects. Perhaps you’ve stumbled upon a classic car show, the panoply of polished hubcaps and shiny hoods a testament to golden days of Detroit. Or, perchance you’ve wandered the hall of the Louvre, where the panoply of great works looks down from every wall. Or, maybe you’ve simply made a trip to the organic grocer, where a panoply of leafy greens—kale, spinach, chard, and dandelion greens—welcomes you. If you haven’t guessed by now, a panoply is an impressive display or array of things.


A medley, a mix, a hodgepodge, and a jumble—all are similar to pastiche, which is a confused mixture of things, elements drawn from various other sources. We typically encounter this word in the creative fields: a songwriter can craft melodies that some critics dismiss as a pastiche of 80-synth rock, 60’s retro and 90’s feel-good alternative. A local artist’s work might be described as a pastiche of Monet (minus the water lilies), Jackson Pollock, and graffiti (I’d like to see that!). Notice the word pastiche has a pejorative (hey, another ‘p’ word) connotation, and unless you want to offend an artist, you better not call his or her work a pastiche.


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A platitude is a canned phrase that is meant to sound profound but, upon being repeated so often, is ultimately hollow. “Use it or lose it”; “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”; “To each his own” are just a few from the panoply of platitudes that vitiate public discourse. Other platitudes include those oft-spouted, though well-intentioned, bits of advice people invariably give when you are feeling sick—“Hope you get better soon” doesn’t quite have the same immunity-boosting properties as a shot of Vitamin C.


Disputatious discourse, in which heated arguments volley back and forth between red-faced interlocutors, is the essence of the word polemic. And where there are politics, there are polemics. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a civilized, almost dispassionate debate about politics. Surf through the channels and you’re bound to encounter a welter of polemics.

Polemic, despite the ‘-ic’ is a noun. The adjective form of the word is polemical.


You’re set to take off on a long journey, and just as you pull out of the garage a rain cloud forms, dropping buckets on the ground and visibility close to zero. Soon thereafter, you get a flat tire and when you try to make a call you get no cellphone service.

Let’s contrast the above with your GRE day. You find the testing center closest to your home and the appointment time when you are at your sharpest. All the conditions are propitious for your success. That is, things are lined up in your favor. The example in the first paragraph, on the other hand, describes an unpropitious beginning to a journey.


I work in Berkeley. As I stroll about town, I see many college students. I can safely say that there is a preponderance of college students. That is, out of the population walking the streets, more than 50% are college students. So whenever there is a general pool of something—whether people, animals, or GRE words—and some element shows up more than any other element, you can safely say that there is a preponderance of whatever it is you are talking about. In this post, there is (naturally) a preponderance of ‘p’ words. Indeed, compared to your average reading fare, there is a preponderance of vocabulary (unless you spend your idle time haunting


Inclined to using many words? Do you load your sentences with adverbs and platitudes, whether you are writing or talking? Well, if so, you are prolix. The word has a negative connotation, so if somebody speaks eloquently on some topic, I wouldn’t call that person prolix (Unless, they begin to belabor their points and lapse into bombast). Okay, I don’t want to wax any more prolix, so I’ll part—hopefully propitiously—with this panoply and preponderance of ‘p’ words, this pastiche of the English language that has yet to devolve into the polemical.


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