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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Traveling Words

Last week, I took a trip to London and Paris with my wife and two-year old. If you know anything about being a parent, you’ll easily relate to the fact that taking a two-year-old anywhere, even for a routine trip the store, can be a daunting prospect. Dragging a two-year-old around on a whirlwind trip to London and Paris—with a three-day wedding thrown in there—was downright arduous. In honor of travel, tantrum-throwing two-year olds, and the general stress that all entails here are a few words.



Travail means a painful effort. Travel of the non-Hawaii, beach resort kind is fraught with travail. Indeed, the root of the word travel comes from the word travail. Hundreds of years ago when people traveled they had to do deal with travails of all kinds: horse carriages lodged in the muck, highwaymen ready to descend upon them at every turn, and the local outbreak of cholera. There was little to traveling that wasn’t travail.

Our trip was quickly beset with travail: just as we were leaving the house, our toddler decided to remove her diaper (I’ll leave the rest to the reader’s imagination).   



Etymologically, this is a curious word. It’s derived from a philosopher of the Aristotelian school. Not known for frequent flyer mileage, these philosophers were known for walking about from place to place as they engaged in protracted philosophical disputes, whether with an interlocutor or the many voices in their heads. Today, the word is more broadly used to describe anyone who travels from place to place on foot.

During our peripatetic forays into London, my wife and I dragged a stroller along with us, in case our daughter fell asleep (and allowed her parents a much needed respite). 



A fun word, which is probably a little too rare for the GRE, is peregrination. It’s a slightly comical way of saying journey. So if you want to infuse some humor or irony into your prose, you can try the following, e.g., Bernie Madoff’s sundry peregrinations across the country to drum up support for his “business venture”.

My daughter’s various peregrinations were limited to pedestrian boulevards and a five-foot radius of her out-of-breath parents.



A close cousin of frantic, frenetic implies lots of wild and chaotic movement. The word is derived from the Greek phrenitis, which means delirium (phren- in Greek means mind, e.g. schizophrenia means “split mind”.)

Merely jumping into a cab was a frenetic activity: we had to fold-up a stroller laden with British chocolates and various knick-knacks, prevent our toddler from running into oncoming traffic, and manage to squeeze into cramped quarters, all while the meter was running.



Toddlers tend to be two things: ridiculously cute and highly theatrical. Constantly on the move and in an unpredictable environment, a two-year old will most likely indulge in the latter—being histrionic. Histrionic comes from the Latin, histrionicus, and means actor.  But to engage in histrionics is to become overly theatrical—in short, to throw a fit.

Our toddler watched bemused from her stroller, as my wife and I engaged in various histrionics as we barely caught our departing train.



For all its tumult and uncertainty, travel is the ultimate vicarious activity. That is we can experience second-hand, through television or writing, the thrill of traveling. Rick Steves is a travel writer who has a weekly segment on PBS detailing his trips through Europe. He deftly interweaves history into his peregrinations, adding a dash of the local life. I always look forward to the vicarious thrill of traveling with Rick Steves.

For all the frenetic activity, there were a few minutes when my family and I were able to enjoy ourselves—watching the Seine amiably rolling by, unwinding in a verdant park equipped with a whimsical playground; but for now, I think I’ll enjoy travel vicariously, by tuning in to Rick Steves.  


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