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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Ten Dollar Words

Many GRE vocabulary words are unassuming-looking, small syllabic blips that leave faintly a trace (cede, contend, aver). Then there are GRE words that are giant agglutinations of syllables that, when you to try to pronounce them, put your tongue in a knot. Unlike short words, these “ten dollar words”, or long impressive-sounding words, have one positive thing going for them: once you’ve seen them, you’ll never forget them. Just make sure you don’t forget the definition!



Speaking of fear, a pusillanimous person is one who is cowardly and lily-livered. Just the letters G-R-E will have them scrambling for the door. In general, the pusillanimous type is one who is too fearful to speak out. Often dictators can assume power, not because they are able to seduce everyone, but because people become pusillanimous, afraid to speak out or act because they fear some form of reprisal.



Okay, I added the suffix “-ness” to make this word even scarier. One who is supercilious looks down at others in this snooty, contemptuous way. Superciliousness—a noun—is that quality.

The etymology of this word is very interesting, and may even raise a brow or two. Cilia refer to eyelashes. The “super” prefix means above, so essentially supercilious means above the eyelashes, more specifically the eyebrows. Of course the connection at this point is anything but apparent. The missing piece is this: when people raise their eyebrows they are being haughty, or looking down at someone.

The “cool girls” at school were renowned for their superciliousness, mocking underclassman unfortunate enough to be clad in last year’s fashion.



A tricky word—both to pronounce and to not get mixed up with the notion of the infinite. See, infinitesimal is not about infinite lengths but about very tiny, tiny lengths. For instance, the difference between the eye of a needle and the thickness of a strand of hair is so infinitesimal as to be unnoticeable to the naked eye.



Harsh, critical comments—common stock in trade amongst the supercilious crowd—is a good way to describe animadversions. Let’s say you submit a paper, and the teacher, appalled by your writing, spills a tide of red ink across the page. At the bottom, along with a very low grade, are several critical comments, or animadversions.

The word sometimes carries a connotation of public censure. Say that same teacher points out to the rest of the class how dangling modifiers mar your writing. Well, then you are a victim of animadversion (hopefully you’ve never had such a teacher!).



Just pronouncing this word may give the impression that your mouth is filled with popcorn. Indeed, if you shove half a bag of popcorn in your mouth so that your cheeks swell out to the size of grapefruits, then you’ve been transmogrified into a chipmunk (just remember to breathe through you nose).

Generally speaking, transmogrify means to warp something into a fantastical form or shape, as in when you walk through a funhouse filled with mirrors that make you look beanstalk skinny or comically rotund.


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