One of my favorite ways to learn vocabulary is to sort my vocabulary words into various categories. Somehow, searching my mind for ways to group them together really helps them to stick with me in a way that flashcards and sentences sometimes don’t.
The GRE has done a good job, if you can believe it, at reducing the number of antiquated, profession-based words on the exam. But because those words get used often and have a pronounced place in literature, they probably won’t leave vocabulary tests completely any time soon.
In this article, we’ll review ten words related to clothing. It’s important to remember that most of these words, if they show up on your test, won’t be used in sentences about clothing. They are more likely to be used in a comparison to something similar, as part of a simile or metaphor.
(1) Mantle. A mantle is a loose, sleeveless cloak or covering, generally worn by a woman. It’s something that covers the whole body like a blanket. Because of that, it’s second meaning is that a mantle is some broad or important role that is passed down from one person to another. “Mantle” is also a verb, which means to cover completely or envelop.
I generally picture an important cloth robe, such as the robe of a shaman or town elder, which covers the person entirely and will be passed down from family member to family member. That image bundles together all the definitions of “mantle” for me and helps me keep them clear in my mind.
(2) Poncho. A poncho is a blanket-like shawl worn over the shoulders, sometimes made of plastic in order to keep away rain. Its key quality is that it covers something up, which is the quality that’s likely to be referenced in a metaphor.
(3) Raiment. “Raiment” is just another word for “clothing”. It is most likely to be used literally, but could also be used to describe the covering or costume on something in a metaphorical way. This is a good word to memorize because it is a tough one to “figure out” during the test – not a lot of roots or other similar words to tie it to.
(4) Unravel. To unravel something means to unwind it so that it comes apart, like you would do with a spool of thread or a piece of cloth. While “unravel” is often used literally, it’s perhaps more often used more metaphorically to mean “come undone” in the sense of a plan or someone’s mental health “coming apart at the seams”, to use another clothing-derived expression.
Annoyingly, the word “ravel” means “to unravel something”. Yikes. It also means to tangle, knot, or complicate it. As a noun, a “ravel” is a tangle or cluster.
(5) Sartorial. “Sartorial” is an adjective meaning having to do with tailoring, clothes, style or fashion. If someone has a sartorial flair, for example, he or she has a flair for style and clothing. I am a big fan of the website The Sartorialist, where a respected fashion photographer photographers people with unique style and tailoring the world over. Checking it out might help you remember what this word means!
(6) Millinery. Specifically, “millinery” means “women’s hats”, or the business of making or selling women’s hats. Talk about something we don’t need a word for. Not the world’s most common GRE word, but if it shows up, it’s fairly hard to guess or figure out that specific meaning if you don’t already know it.
(7) Pleat. A pleat is a fold stitched into cloth, such as you would have in a pleated skirt. The word “pleat” can be used metaphorically to mean fold or crease in something other than cloth. For example, mountain ridges could pleat the landscape.
(8) Plait. A plait is a braid. While you commonly see braids on cloth made of ribbon, cord, or string, you can braid everything from hair to bread dough. When you realize that to braid means to wind, weave, or tie together, you can see how this word is often used metaphorically: you can plait together ideas, concepts, or words, among other things.
(9) Sheathe. A sheath is the protective cover that holds a weapon such as a knife or sword, and to sheathe something is to put it in such a protective covering. The verb “sheathe” is often used metaphorically to mean put something “sharp” or dangerous in a covering so that it can’t do any damage or have any effect. For example, you might want to sheathe your razor-sharp wit when you are in court, or sheathe your sharp tongue when talking to your child’s vice principal.
(10) Ragamuffin. Growing up, I spent lots of time with my grandmother, who is turning 90 in two weeks, so I definitely know the definition of “ragamuffin”, because I was called one all the time. A ragamuffin is someone, usually a child, dressed in ragged or messy clothes. Someone who’s unkempt (which is another GRE word). A guttersnipe, if you want another weird word.
Picture the orphans from “Annie” or the street kids from “Oliver Twist” and you’ll have a good idea what a ragamuffin is. Or, in my grandmother’s world, anyone with holes in their jeans or wearing (gasp!) a sweatshirt.
Can you think of any other GRE words that have to do with clothing? Share them in the comments!
Hopefully there are a lot of GRE words you learned in school – particularly because lots of GRE words come from literature, science, mathematics, music and art, and foreign languages. You probably even studied many of them when and if you studied for the SAT and ACT.
But some GRE vocab words aren’t learned in the school curriculum, but in the language of school itself. Here are fifteen words whose content is related to school.
(1) Expel. Most of us know the word “expel” in terms of school – the greatest threat a school has to offer is to expel you, or kick you out.
That’s the context in which we’re used to hearing “expel”, but it could apply any time someone is deprived of his or her membership or even anytime something is removed, gotten rid of, or thrown out. You can expel a gum wrapper from your car window, or expel a drunkard from a bar, for example.
(2) Punctuate. You probably remember learning about punctuation, marks such as commas or periods that you put within text. So yes, to punctuate something means to add punctuation to it. But it also means to occur at intervals throughout a period of time, or to be peppered with.
For example, US history has been punctuated by the passing of Constitutional amendments. They happen sometimes, and when they do, they interrupt or change the course of history. Someone’s speech can be punctuated with curse words, or someone’s life can be punctuated by bad break-ups.
(3) Tardy. “Tardy” is a word I’ve never heard used outside of a school setting. My high school, and all other high schools I know of, didn’t mark you “late”: they marked you “tardy”. Tardy means delayed or late, but it’s not just students who can be tardy. You can send a tardy reply to an email, or a bus can make a tardy arrival at the bus stop.
(4) Valediction. Most of us know that the valedictorian is the student with the best GPA, but that’s sort of a coincidence. That student is not called the valedictorian because he or she has the best grades – he or she is called the valedictorian because he or she gives the valedictory, or valediction, at the graduation ceremony (and is chosen for that job because of his or her good grades).
So what’s a valediction? That “diction” root should tell you it has something to do with speech, and it does – it’s a saying of goodbye. The valediction speech at graduation is a spoken goodbye to high school. So if you wave to someone in valediction, for example, you’re waving goodbye.
Learning GRE vocabulary isn’t easy, but it can get a little easier when you link the words you don’t know to something you already know. You already know thousands of words – may as well take advantage of them!
When you hit a GRE word you don’t recognize but that seems sort of familiar, you might want to ask yourself if you know the opposite of that word. Prefixes such as “dis”, “in”, or “im”, either added to or removed from the beginning of words, often change them to their opposite meaning.
Below is a list of 15 GRE words that you might not know, but that you likely could figure out by knowing their antonyms.
1. Enfranchise. I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “enfranchise” in conversation. I’ve typed it twice in this article, which makes twice that I’ve typed it in, well, probably my life. But “disenfranchise”? That word is everywhere.
A disenfranchised group is deprived of a right, often related to voting. An enfranchised group, therefore, is given the right to vote (or be represented politically).
2. Ingenuous. “Ingenuous” gives us about 277,000 Google search results. “Disingenuous” gives us about 1.2 million. Most of us recognize that “disingenuous” means insincere or tricky, and if you were to guess based on that fact that “ingenuous” meant innocent or not tricky, you’d be right.
3. Maculated. What does it mean for something to be “maculated”? Before studying for the GRE, I wouldn’t have had any idea. But I know “immaculate” means perfectly clean, free of even a single speck or spot. So maculated probably means the opposite of that – and it does.
4. Intrepid. “Intrepid” you can think of as likely having a positive connotation, given that it’s a brand name. But if you don’t know what it means, drop the prefix and think about the “trepid” part. “Trepidation” is probably a word you know to mean fear, so isn’t it likely that “intrepid” means brave or fearless? It does.
5. Implacable. The dictionary definition of implacable is “unable to be placated”, clearly relying on the reader knowing the definition of “placated” to mean appeased or calmed.
6. Unfeigned. I wouldn’t consider “unfeigned” a commonly used word, but I bet that you’ve come across the word “feigned” in your regular day sometime recently. Something feigned is faked, so something unfeigned is un-faked; it’s authentic.
7. Disallow. Not shockingly, the little-used “disallow” means to reject, refuse, or dismiss something – to not allow it.
There are some vocabulary words related to animals that you may have no reason to know if you don’t normally read, write, or talk a lot about animals. Many of them are conventionally used to discuss animals or come from talking about animals, but are then used in other contexts.
Here are just 15 examples of some animal vocabulary! Many of these words have taken on a less literal meaning outside of the animal kingdom.
- Fleece. Fleece is the wool on a sheep or similar animal. So when something is “fleeced”, that literally means to cover with something, as skin would be covered with fleece. For example, one might describe the sky as “fleeced with clouds”. Figuratively, to fleece someone is to shake them down for money – similar to the expression “taking the shirt off someone’s back”, it implies stripping them in some way, much like removing fleece from a sheep.
- Molt. When an animal molts, it sheds its feathers, fur, hair or skin to make way for new growth. It’s a regular part of most animals’ life cycles. Sometimes, the word molt can be used figuratively to refer to shedding parts of the past to make room to grow or change, generally in a positive way.
- Ferret. A ferret is a curious, weasel-y creature that can sneak into and out of almost any tight spot. To “ferret” is to search around for something, or to tenaciously seek something out and find it. You will often see it used with the prepositions “out” or “around”; you can “ferret around” a messy drawer or “ferret out” the facts of a case.
- Carrion. Carrion is the decaying flesh of a dead animal, often food for another animal in the wild. (It’s also a pretty great Fiona Apple song, if you’re looking for a great song and a good mnemonic all in one.) It can be used figuratively to describe something destroyed and devoured by something else: “The executive pounced on the carrion of the rejected interviewee.”
- Chameleon. A chameleon is a lizard that can change its color to blend in with its surroundings. It’s not surprising that “chameleon” is often used metaphorically to describe a person who blends in with a particular surrounding that isn’t natural to him or her.
- Fodder. Fodder is food, generally for livestock, generally referring to dried feed or hay. That’s the literal meaning. Figuratively, fodder is anything that’s used as material for the use of sustaining something else. “His terrible decisions were fodder for our office jokes” or “desperate workers were fodder for his offers for overtime.”
- Plumage. Plumage is a word for a bird’s feathers, particularly used when those feathers are colorful or attractive. It might be used metaphorically to describe someone’s showy or attractive outfit or appearance.
- Earmark. To mark the ear of an animal to show your particular ownership of it is to earmark it, as one might so with a cow or sheep. Thus, to “earmark” something is to designate it for a particular purpose or owner. An earmark is also a characteristic or identifying feature, much like the particular earmark on an animal would identify who owned it.
- Gadfly. A gadfly is any fly that bites or bothers livestock. Based on that definition, we now use “gadfly” to describe an annoying person, especially one who provokes others by criticizing them. I’m sure you have a gadfly in your office.
- Prey. Prey is an animal hunted or killed by another animal for food, and to prey on an animal is to hunt it and kill it for food. Metaphorically, to prey on someone is to seek them out and destroy them or take advantage of them. A payday lender could prey on needy customers, or a salesman could prey on your ignorance of car prices.
- Menagerie. A menagerie is technically a collection of wild animals collected for people to view, like a zoo. More loosely, it has come to describe a strange, interesting, or diverse collection of people or things.
- Minnow. A minnow is a tiny fish. “Tiny” is the important part here, as a minnow would often go unnoticed in the sea, and be easily replaced by another tiny fish. Thus, a “minnow” can also be an unimportant person or organization. For example, you could say, “Tom’s Office Supplies is a minnow in the office supply store industry.
- Feral. A feral animal is a wild animal. It is generally used to describe an animal that is usually captive or domestic, such as a feral cat or feral dog. It is used more broadly to describe an animal, person, or action that is wild, undomesticated, or untamable. For example, the feral child running down the grocery store cereal aisle might give you a feral snarl when you ask her to calm down.
- Fancier. Most of the time, a fancier is someone who breeds or is particularly interested in a certain type of animal. It can be applied to describe anyone who is a connoisseur or enthusiast of any particular thing, however; one can be a wine fancier or a fountain pen fancier.
- Flounder. A flounder is a fish that swims and lies on its side. To “flounder” is to struggle or thrash around or to squirm. It can be used literally, as in “the child floundered in the muddy water”. It is often used figuratively as well: “on the stand, the witness floundered, stammering and back-peddling to the embarrassment of his attorney.”
Many words related to animals (or plants, for that matter) can be reinforced by a Google image search to help you associate them with pictures. That is especially true of animal-related words that don’t really have any other meaning or implication, such as crepuscular, dorsal, fauna, equestrian, herbivorous, ewe, and ornithologist.
Can you think of any other good animal-related GRE words?
Maybe by now, you all know that I hate vocab. It’s not my thing. It doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I have to make the flashcards, do the practice quizzes, and fight my way through it. One thing that really works for me is coming up with my own short, general description of a word. If I try to have just some idea of what it means, that’s probably what I’ll need for the test.
But sometimes, the reason a word is on the GRE is that we often us it wrong. Sometimes it’s just a common misunderstanding that’s caught on. Other times, it’s a word we’ve pretty much stopped using except in one context, where either one of the two meanings would make sense.
Want a couple examples?
- Peruse. Peruse doesn’t mean “to browse or glance something over”. It means “to read or examine carefully.” If you start using it that way in conversation, everyone will think you’re an idiot. But you should know it come GRE test day.
- Abscond. We usually only use this word in sentences like, “He absconded with the diamonds.” A lot of us think it means stealing, but it doesn’t. It means to sneak away, especially to avoid getting in trouble.
- Refute. We’re used to this word, and know that when you “refute” someone’s argument, you shut it down. But not just by disagreeing, as is commonly thought. “Refute” means to completely disprove something.
- Condone. We usually use this word in expressions like, “the school does not condone this behavior.” Well, the school might not approve of the behavior, but that’s not what “condone” means – it means “overlook” or “disregard”. If I condone what you’re doing, I don’t necessarily approve of it – I’m just not going to stop you.
- Consent. This one’s kind of like condone. If I consent to your argument, that doesn’t necessarily mean I like it. It just means I agree, even in a passive way or with a negative attitude. Read more
or your bookshelf, or radio, or whatever. When it comes to remembering GRE words, it really helps to link them to something you know.
Here are just ten examples of GRE words showing up in shows, movies, or books that you might know. If you’re a visual or auditory learner, try searching for GRE words that are bugging you on YouTube to see if any helpful references come up!
It might be clear after working your way through this post that these references come from the perspective of a 30-something American woman. The references that come to mind for you might be completely different, but the sentiment remains the same “ link the words to things you know, and they’re likely to stick with you.
- Leery: If you’re the right age to remember Dawson’s Creek, you know that Dawson Leery was always worried about someone breaking his heart. To be leery means to be guarded or wary and not trust others. We knew you never should have trusted Joey, Dawson. She broke your heart.
- Wily: Why was Wile E. Coyote so darn obsessed with that roadrunner anyway? He certainly did try some clever, crafty, tricky, sneaky stuff. Maybe that’s how he got his name, since that’s what wily means.
- Plucky: If you’re between the ages of 25 and 35, you probably remember Plucky Duck from Tiny Toon Adventures. The word plucky means courageous, brave, and game for adventure “ and Plucky was perfectly all those things, always coming up with egotistical schemes where he tried to undertake some mammoth feat.
- Craven: In The Secret Garden, Master Craven is so afraid to face life after his wife dies that he locks up her garden, retreats from the world, and even avoids their ailing son at any cost. Perhaps he got his name because craven means spineless, timid, or fainthearted. Don’t worry “ he gets it together by the end of the book.
Anyone who’s taken my GRE class can tell you that I’m not a vocab girl. I never took Latin, I pretty much don’t know any roots, and I’m terrible at learning foreign languages. So how did I get a perfect score on the GRE? For vocab, the biggest skill for me is mnemonic devices.
All for the game
I think it’s great that some teachers want to use the GRE as a way to inspire a love of learning in students. You’ll use this vocab all your life! You’ll sound so smart! Start reading the Economist every day! I just really? You’re an adult. You have infinite things you could learn about, and infinite resources to learn about them, and finite time to do it in. If you were passionate about vocab and wanted to learn more of it, you already would be! And who is really ever going to care if you can use puerile or penumbra in a sentence?
For me, studying for the GRE is all about the game, and the game here is getting GRE points. That’s it. I don’t need to know this word for life. I need to know it to get it right on the exam. And I like that mindset, because I feel like it presents me with a defined challenge that I can win. And I like to win.
Grouping to win.
I am not a great vocab learner. I never took Latin in high school, so I don’t know any roots. I did take Spanish “ but I was terrible at it. Ultimately for me, the best way to learn vocab is to learn vague definitions by grouping words together.
Most GRE questions can be better attacked if you know vaguely what a word means than if you have an exact definition memorized but you don’t really understand it. Sure, there are questions that depend on nuance of meaning. But if you have a basic understanding of a word, that’s almost always enough.
I find it easiest to learn vocab words by grouping them together. Two of my favorite groups are presented here. These groups contain a lot of words, so it’s helpful for both memory and for learning synonyms and antonyms.
To talk or not to talk? First, not to talk.
There are a LOT of words on the GRE that have to do with how talkative or quiet someone is. For example, the words reticent, taciturn, terse, laconic and brusque all basically mean not saying much. They are different in meaning from one another, to some extent. But I contend that you can get pretty far on the GRE without knowing that.