The Futility of Nugatory (GRE) Vocabulary

 loquaciousIn 2006 I am studying for the GRE and I try to come up with profound ways to remember the vocabulary words I will never use again once the test is over. I mean, really, who ever uses the word “pugnacious” in a sentence? We say “eager to box” or “is soon to get the shit beat out of him.” Loquacious is “you talk too fucking much.” And while we could use the succinct word “din” we instead say “it’s fucking loud in here.”

As I study for the vocab, though, I realize that my favorite singer actually uses some of the GRE words in her lyrics. I get an idea about how to memorize more vocab—make a playlist! But really this activity functions as a way to distract myself, to engage in that great American college student pastime of procrastination. I come up with a playlist in which the songs’ lyrics implement the vocabulary. I delude myself into thinking this is the best way, ever, to help me study, but really what it achieves is me wasting time by sifting through odious amounts of song lyrics instead of working through my vocabulary flashcards.

Ani Difranco teaches me GRE vocabulary words:

“I had a machine that made silence, it just sucked up the whole opinionated din.” (“Garden of Simple)

“The path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked, makes it serpentine, capitalism is the devil’s wet dream.” (“Serpentine”)

“The mind control is deep here, man the myopia is steep here.” (“Serpentine”)

“Feminism ain’t about equality it’s about reprieve.” (“Reprieve”)

“I’ve got no room for a lie so verbose” (“Self Evident”)

“Like the truth is accessible at any time. I teach myself it’s never really one or the other. There’s a paradox in every paradigm”(“Paradigm”)

“Now let’s get talking reefer madness like some arrogant government can’t by any stretch of the imagination outlaw a plant.” (“Evolve”)

“He has brought you fistfuls of teenage nightmares, though you think you see, in your naivete that he is empty handed, and this brings you great relief at the time.” (“Parameters”)

“I mired in the marrow of my ‘well ain’t that funny?’ bone” (“Marrow”)


Even with my nifty little entertaining playlist of Ani Difranco GRE vocabulary word songs, I am not surprised when I get the results and see that I horribly failed the vocabulary section. Though somehow I managed a perfect score on the math, which is funny considering I was an English major who always sucked at math. Though I did spend time studying for the math section—as in, I actually used a study guide to teach me the shortcuts and tricks to answering questions instead of distracting myself with music and Google searches.

I write this as my husband studies for the GRE for the second time in his life. He purchases the thick study guides again, and tries to re-memorize the things he will never use after the exam, again (unless even further down the road he takes the GRE for a third time).

So as the GRE approaches, I think back to my own GRE experience from seven years ago and try to remember what it was I did—other than the Ani Difranco lyric list—to cram temporary knowledge into my life. 1) Memorize five vocab words a day by putting them on a sticky note and attaching it to your steering wheel so you can practice them while driving to work—thinking that the distraction of the road will force you to try and concentrate more on the words. 2) Ignore how learning the common roots of words can help you to guess what certain big and hard-to-pronounce words on the test mean and (unsuccessfully) go through the huge vocabulary list alphabetically instead. 3) As the test approaches, drink while you study in order to calm your nerves about taking the test. These are the main things I did—none of which I would recommend.

In 2006 I careen down I-35 in my black Ford Ranger truck. A yellow Post-It note with five vocabulary words written on it clings to the center of my steering wheel—my crappy little-boy-like hand writing scrawled on the page, telling me the words’ meanings I will forget by the end of the day.

I should probably be concentrating on driving, but the necessity of trying to study/prepare/cram for the GRE seems more important to me than paying attention to the road. Because although I am a so-so writer, my vocabulary sucks, and thus I have to try to really build it up if I want to have any chance at getting into grad school. Today the five random words I have picked to learn are antediluvian, puerile, paragon, lugubrious and leviathan. I also tack misanthrope onto the end of that list, challenging myself to see if I could learn six words in a day.

As I drive, every five seconds I look away from the road and down at my yellow sticky note, trying to decipher my hand writing in order to memorize the meanings.

Like roll call, I go through each of the words in my head, listing quick definitions to help me remember them, checking the words off this list once the definitions become somewhat present in my mind. I am memorizing, not learning. And rather than digesting the words whole—making them an organic part of my life—I keep the words stored in the back of my throat so I can easily regurgitate them in a few days.

Antediluvian: really fucking old

Puerile: acting like a fucking child

Paragon: nobody can be a bigger asshole than George W. Bush

Lugubrious: being a despicable Negative Nancy

Leviathan: big fucking whale

Misanthrope: a cranky mother fucker.


Now, it is seven years after I failed my GRE test, and now, as I write this essay, I see that my vocabulary has, in deed, grown. Loquacious, while I never thought I would use it, is actually my favorite word. And I think back to that Ani Difranco vocab list, remembering two words I came across that I had never seen before, two words I wished the GRE would include so that each year thousands of grad school wanna-be’s would flashcard the words into their minds, bringing attention to the meaning of them: “democrans” and “republicrats.”

But it will be awhile for the GRE to catch up on these contemporary words, because the GRE is a paragon of an institution that demands unnecessary knowledge of antediluvian words that, in turn, tortures the test-takers into lugubrious misanthropes. This act is puerile and proves that the irrelevant GRE leviathan vocabulary only creates a din in our heads, causing us to feel quite pugnacious towards the people who created the test.


Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago. She has been published in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, The Coachella Review and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor’s Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt, as well as a Pushcart Prize nomination. Clammer is a weekly columnist for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as the assistant nonfiction editor for both Eckleburg and The Dying Goose. Her first collection of essays, There is Nothing Else to See Here will be published by Thumbnail Press in Fall 2013. You can read more of her writing at:


Chelsey Clammer
Chelsey Clammer is the author of the award-winning essay collection, Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017) and BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015). Her work has appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, Hobart, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School and Black Warrior Review. She teaches online writing classes with WOW! Women On Writing and is a freelance editor. Her next collection of essays, Human Heartbeat Detected, is forthcoming (Fall 2022) from Red Hen Press.