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?
If you find it helpful to learn GRE vocabulary words in categories, here are twenty words that are related in some way to the fields of art and architecture. Because most of these words are very visual, a Google image search would be a good way to help keep them in your mind.
Many of the words below are used in non-literal ways on the GRE, so try thinking of them both literally and figuratively.
1. Gargoyle. Literally, a gargoyle is a gothic stone creature often used on the corners of rooftops as a gutter or water spout. Figuratively, it often just refers to a grotesque or scarily ugly being.
2. Upholster. Literally, to upholster something (usually furniture) is to coat it in fabric. Figuratively, to upholster something is to coat it evenly and liberally in something else so that the original does not show.
3. Patina. Literally, a patina is a thin coating of color or shine over something, particularly copper. Figuratively, a patina can be any sort of thin veneer or superficial cover on anything from someone’s words to his feelings.
4. Homage. Literally, an homage is a piece of work done in respect to or honor of someone else, often in the style of their work. Figuratively, the word “homage” is often used less seriously; eating Cheetos and wiping your orange fingers on your pants might be an homage to your dad, who does the same.
5. Pastiche. Literally, a pastiche is a work of art that mimics the art from another style, work, artist, or period. Figuratively, the word “pastiche” is often used to describe things other than art that are copies of someone else’s original.
6. Mosaic. Literally, a mosaic is a piece of art made from small tiles or similar hard material, such as stone or glass, arranged to form a pattern or picture. Figuratively, a mosaic could be any combination of items or ideas that come together to form a pleasant collective idea or picture.
7. Buttress. Literally, a buttress is a support of wood or stone that sticks out from a wall and holds it up. Figuratively, it’s anything that supports something else; a piece of evidence can buttress an argument.
8. Lattice. Literally, lattice is a pattern or trellis made of strips of a material such as wood or metal arranged in a criss-cross pattern, like a pie crust. Figuratively, a lattice is an interweaving of items or ideas into a more formal arrangement or a cohesive pattern.
9. Mausoleum. Literally, a mausoleum is a building, often large and stately, used as a tomb. Figuratively, it is often used to refer to a place that is quiet and “dead”, like a boring office or a party at which no one is having fun.
10. Chisel. Literally, a chisel in a sharp tool used to chip away or break something hard, such as wood or stone. Figuratively, to chisel away at something is to break it down little by little until it breaks or becomes what you want.
11. Monochromatic. Literally, monochromatic means having only one color or one family of colors. Figuratively, it could refer to anything that is dull or similar in tone, such as a boring piece of writing without any surprise or style.
12. Annex. Literally, the annex of a building is a part added to or adjoining the main building. (It also applies to the section added to a document.) Figuratively, to annex something means to add it on or appropriate it.
13. Labyrinth. Literally, a labyrinth is a complex maze. Figuratively, anything puzzling or exceptionally convoluted, complex, or difficult to figure out can be called labyrinthine.
The final words on this list are generally used only in their literal meaning.
14. Fresco. A fresco is a painting made in fresh plaster when the plaster is still wet, so that the painting is embedded in the wall. You might think of the many ways “fresco” is used to mean “fresh” to help you remember what a fresco is.
15. Frieze. A frieze is a band of painting or sculpture along a wall or ceiling, often displaying a story or an historical scene frozen in time.
16. Mural. A mural is a painting on a wall.
17. Papyrus. Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian paper made from reeds, which often has a beige color.
18. Minaret. A minaret is a tall, slender tower on a building, such as the towers on a mosque.
19. Plane. A plane is something level and flat, and to plane something means to cut it with a flat metal blade to make it evenly flat.
20. Parquet. Parquet is a wood flooring generally arranged in a geometric pattern.
Sometimes you’ll see a GRE word that you recognize, but won’t know what it means. If you recognize it as a brand name, but don’t know what it means, chances are it means something good: most brands don’t want to be named after something bad. (There are certainly exceptions: the website Gawker comes to mind.)
Here are 15 GRE words that are also brand names. Sometimes the brand name comes from the definition, and sometimes not. But maybe associating them with their brand will help you remember what they mean!
1. Kindle. To kindle something means to spark it, or light it on fire. You probably already know the word “kindling”, but if not, think of the Kindle e-reader, designed to spark your imagination with all your reading at your fingertips.
2. Hedonism. A hedonist is someone who seeks out pleasure. It’s often associated with the ideas of being overly focused on pleasure, particularly in relation to physical pleasure. A quick glance at the web page of Hedonism Resorts, an adults-only all-inclusive Carribbean resort with devil horns on its logo, might help you remember this word.
3. Lampoon. National Lampoon mocks things. It makes fun of them. The magazine has spun off movies such as “Animal House” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. Hopefully that will help you remember that to “lampoon” something means to make fun of something with sarcasm.
4. Intrepid. Intrepid means fearless. It describes an adventurer. So it makes sense that Dodge would want to name a car after that characteristic, considering other Dodge models include the Avenger, Challenger, Charger, and Journey. (The name Dodge itself is a family name – otherwise it would be a pretty odd choice for a company so interested in naming things after bravery.)
5. Amazon. Probably everyone knows Amazon as an online marketplace (and, of course, as a huge forest in South America). Jeff Bezos has said that he chose the name Amazon in part because he wanted his store to be “exotic and different” like the Amazon itself. The word Amazon refers to a strong, statuesque woman, as it was the mythological name of a group of women warriors. The forest is named Amazon because of the women who fought in battle there, but thinking of the website Amazon might help you think of something powerful and strong.
6. Balderdash. Balderdash is a pretty well-known board game where players must make up definitions of words and try to trick other players into voting for their definition over the real one. It’s well-named, as “balderdash” means nonsense. That’s exactly what the game has everyone writing!
7. Fiat. Another car makes the list. A fiat, by definition, is a decree. It’s often applied to an authorization of power. Fiat is a large Italian automobile manufacturer, and while the name wasn’t intended this way (it’s actually an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino), I use the brand name to help me remember that the word means a decree. Maybe your fancy Italian car is a decree of your power, and your ability to do what you want because you say so.
8. Bazaar. Bazaar is a popular women’s fashion magazine, showcasing the best products from around the world. That may help you to remember that a bazaar is a large market with all kinds of eclectic and interesting offerings.
9. Fidelity. Fidelity means faithfulness and loyalty. What better name would you want for a bank? Even better, Fidelty’s advertisements use the full name, “Fidelity Bank and Trust”. Getting the word trust in there really helps cement the link in your brain.
10. Pedigree. Even if you’ve never purchased dog food, you probably know that Pedigree is a brand of dog food. It’s also a way of marking an animal as purebred through its ancestry records. Your pedigree is your lineage – in layman’s terms, a measure of how fancy you are. What a good name for a food product that’s marketed as a high-quality item for beloved pets.
11. Prudential. Here’s another well-named “Bank and Trust”! Prudential, like prudent, means making good and careful decisions, particularly relating to money or business. Who wouldn’t want a bank that does that?
12. Hallmark. Hallmark has worked very hard to remind us, with its gold crown stamp, that Hallmark is the type of card you send “when you care enough to send the very best.” A hallmark is technically a stamp on something showing its quality, but has evolved to mean any literal or figurative mark of quality. In other words, that gold crown stamp is the hallmark of an overpriced greeting card.
13. Finesse. Do you have finesse? I don’t, in life, but I do under my sink. Finesse is a brand of shampoo and other hair products designed to be delicate on hair and create beautiful results. To have finesse means to have a delicate, subtle, or refined manner in doing something.
14. Nirvana. Some of you didn’t go to high school in the 1990s, but for those of us who did, the word “Nirvana” is more synonymous with Kurt Cobain than Buddhism. Cobain reportedly picked the name because he wanted something “kind of beautiful or nice or pretty”. Nirvana is a transcendent state free of suffering, free of worldly worries and is often used on the GRE as a synonym for peace. When Nirvana frontman Cobain committed suicide in 1994 after a long battle with depression, the name took on an eerie meaning for many fans.
15. Essence. Our second magazine on the list, “Essence” is a magazine for African-American women. The essence of something is the indispensable quality that determines its character: the abstract or special quality that makes something what it is. It makes sense that a women’s magazine which set out to empower, inform, and entertain might want to remind its readers of the intrinsic, unique quality that makes them who they are.
What other brand names help you to remember GRE definitions? Share them in the comments — and be sure to like us on Facebook for more GRE fun!
Some song writers really like their vocab! While you probably won’t pick up a lot of GRE words listening to Justin Beiber, here are just a couple suggestions where you might actually enjoy picking up some new vocab.
1. Tidal, Fiona Apple. A 90s classic, if you were a teenage girl in the 90s. Pop in a copy of Tidal on your drive to work and you’ll be exposed to words such as undulate, appeasing, embers, carrion, divination, acquaint, resounded, coercion, inversion, stifled, deviant, sullen, oblivion, cunning, condescend, abound, enrapture, wary, reverence, endeared, discern, oblige, covet, demeanor, contusion, adagio, intrusion, and endeavor.
2. HMS Pinafore, Gilbert and Sullivan. Okay, seriously, any Gilbert and Sullivan you can get yourself to enjoy is going to fill you with vocab words. This show alone has got saucy, frivolous, depraved, resigned, melodious, consolation, menial, pine, gallant, eloquence, pennant, sprightly, articled, tar, dictatorial, furl, scorn, domineering, tyrant, protrude, audacious, anguish, ignoble I didn’t even make it through half of the songs. And this might be the lightest on vocab of all the Gilbert and Sullivan choices.
3. Black on Both Sides, Mos Def. If you’re a rap fan, this is a fantastic album that you probably already have in your collection. If not, you might check it out if you want the chance to pick up words such as armament, sentiment, brandish, dispossessed, rivalry, saturated, infatuate, glisten, nemesis, scrutinize, staccato, vibrantly, apparition, odyssey, treacherous, testament, beneficent, manifest, reverence, temperament, firmaments, ubiquitous, ephemera, and flagrant, to name just a few.
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.
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.