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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Weird Sounding Words

There are some strange looking words in the English language. Quite a few of them appear on the GRE. Here is a handful!


This funny-looking word, which I believe is the only English word besides ‘kiwi’ to have the letters ‘iwi’ in a row, is derived from the word bailiff, a legal officer in charge of a certain area or jurisdiction. There are no felonious connotations with “bailiwick”, however. The word simply means one’s area of expertise. For instance, my bailiwick is knowing words like “bailiwick.”


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You can be eager, as in “I can’t wait till the weekend”, or you can be really eager that you can barely sit in your seat (“I can’t wait to see the new Game of Thrones season!!!). And what better word than one based on the Old French for fun (that word is gogue). So agog means super excited about something that is about to happen.


If it is a hot August night and you are next to a landfill, or if you are downwind from the gutter, you are likely to be assaulted by a noxious cloud of stench. That cloud is a miasma. Figuratively speaking, a miasma is any negative or unpleasant atmosphere that hangs around a place. A miasma of despair still haunts many countries that once lived under Stalinist oppression.


Whenever I see this word, I think of a Mexican dish or dessert. However, the word is not pronounced ca-ho-lay (nor, for that matter, does it have any culinary associations). It is pronounced cah-jol, and means to try to make somebody do something by constant flattery or coaxing. So if little kid wants a yummy Mexican dessert, he’ll cajole his mom (please, you’re the best mom ever) until he can have bite—or until his mom threatens to ground him.

April Fool’s! We aren’t done yet. This week, we’re throwing in some additional freaky-looking words for your enjoyment. 🙂


This word comes the Italian for the adornments you see during feasts. Okay, that sounds a little anachronistic, since most typically aren’t going to feasts these days in luxurious banquet halls. But if you were (or you still do), all around you will be fancy decorations on the wall. Ribbons fluttering in the air and other such royal frippery will meet your eyes. More generally speaking, to festoon something is to decorate it in a gaudy manner. Whenever I go to graduations, the walls and chairs (and just about anything that can’t object to being beribboned) are festooned.


Actually, this word isn’t that weird looking, but it does have a cool meaning if you know any Romance languages. The meaning, to bite, is anything but romantic and no longer applies to the physical act of biting but to humor that is biting and incisive. For mordant humor, few did it better than Jon Stewart. Check out any Daily Show sketch to see mordant humor.

Tell us which vocabulary themes you want Chris to write about! You can let us know by leaving a comment below.


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