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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Fiendishly Difficult Words


Every now and then I like to choose really difficult, not frequently used words, because every now and then the GRE verbal section will contain a really difficulty, not frequently used word (“objurgate” from the first online practice test leaps to mind).

Otherwise, these things are peculiar, rare specimens that should not be part of your active lexicon (please don’t drop “tergiversate” in the conclusion of your Issue essay hoping to gain some style points—it’ll smack of desperation). You’ll be best off ignoring them altogether if you’re not looking to move onto the most difficult section.


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Tergiversate (that ‘g’ should sound like a ‘j’) comes from the Latin for “with one’s back turned”—particularly apt, considering that to tergiversate can mean to act as a traitor or an apostate (a good GRE word for one who abandons a cause or faith).

Speaking of back turning, when a politician (yes, it’s always a politician, isn’t it!) evades a question, he or she is tergiversating. A synonym for tergiversate—and a much, much higher-frequency word—is equivocate.


Don’t think the Pillsbury dough boy; think praise that is completely exaggerated and unjustified (hey, Pillsbury dough boy, you are looking good these days—is that a six-pack you are sporting). The word typically refers to exaggerated claims made of a product. Tune into to Super Bowl and you’ll see a pageantry of puffery, as one product after another is presented as though it is the greatest thing since sliced toast.


Not only is this word uncommon, but, like puffery, bumptious sounds like it means something that it doesn’t. Well, that’s at least the case if you’re me

–I imagine getting jostled in line at the cafe by those craving a cup of coffee. Actually, somebody who is bumptious might intentionally bump into you to get what they want. Bumptious means overly self-assertive, i.e., you’re willing to push people out of the way to get what you want.


First off, this word is pronounced con-dine (not con-dig-nee). A rare word, it is almost always coupled with “punishment” and describes any punishment that is deserved. For instance, the legendary baseball slugger Pete Rose was barred both from ever playing the game and induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, because near the end of the career (mid-1980s) he had bet on games, presumably losing intentionally. Recently, there has been some murmuring in baseball circles as to whether this was condign punishment. Perhaps, the cloud of ignominy that Rose has had to live in for the last 30 years is condign punishment; therefore, he should be at least considered for the hall of fame.


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