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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Treacherous Homophones

English is full of words that sound like other words, and the GRE loves to take advantage of the confusion that may result. Since the definitions for the words are pretty straightforward, I’ve included relatively challenging sentences, some of which use vocabulary from recent—and not so recent—Vocabulary Wednesdays.

Rapt

We are not talking about presents that have a shiny bow on top. To be rapt is to be completely attentive and engaged. Movies that are so well crafted that we cannot take our eyes from the screen hold us rapt.

Cal Tech physicist Richard Feynman was known not just for his inimitable ability at handling complex equations but for his ability to impart this esoteric knowledge with such fervor that his audience could not help but be rapt.
 

Raze

A crazy word, in that it is the opposite of a word that sounds exactly like it. To raze is to tear down and destroy, the very opposite of raise. A building can be raised on the backs of hard workers but can be razed by a platoon of bulldozers.

Most of the old squatter buildings were razed to make way for a new shopping center—yet another sign of the inexorable march of gentrification. 
 

Veracious

Not to be confused with voracious, which means very, very hungry, veracious means truthful. A witness’s testimony—so long as that person tells the truth—can be described as a veracious statement.

Even if we are to accept Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Constitution as veracious, there are apparent contradictions—we can have untrammeled freedoms yet be free from the incursions of others—that preclude putting his ideas into practice.
 

Diffuse

When I was really young, my mother used to buy frozen concentrated orange juice in a can, from which the water had been removed and to which you would, upon opening, have to add four parts water. Much to my mother’s dismay, I’d often try to eat the cube of condensed orange (hey, I was into sugar).

Diffuse is the opposite of concentrate, though there is no such thing as diffuse orange juice (that would be diluted orange juice). But if I had added fifteen parts of water to the orange (instead of biting into the semi-frozen chunk of soon-to-be OJ), the sugar would have become very diffuse.

Diffuse can be used as a verb, meaning to spread, as in big news stories quickly diffuse through the blogosphere, or an adjective, as in diffuse ideas, held together by a tenuous narrative thread.  Diffuse should not be confused with defuse, as in to defuse a bomb, or reduce some negative quality.

The contexts in which the word diffuse can be used are themselves diffuse, including anything from the consistency of mixtures to the transmission of ideas.
 

Complaisant

This word sounds much like complacent, which means self-satisfied and happy with the way things are at the moment, even though danger may be lurking around the corner. So don’t be complacent: remember that complaisant means willing to please others and obliging. As somebody who teaches SAT to high school students, complaisant students are the best. They always do the homework without becoming querulous. Such students, unfortunately, tend to be the exceptions.

Ever complaisant as a child, Sarah only needed three months of university in New York City to morph into an outright rebel, a piercing for every traffic light in Manhattan.
 

Taut

Yes, I know, I’ve taut test prep for a long time. Oops, was that a spelling error or just a nonsensical pun? Taut means pulled tight, as in a child’s nighttime blank-y spread over a queen-sized bed. Or Usain Bolt’s calf muscles as he explodes out of the blocks.

Figuratively speaking, taut can refer to writing that is very controlled and economical.

Compared to the diffuse oeuvre of most 19th century authors, that of Albert Camus seems taut, each word integral to the meaning the author aims to impart.

 

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