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Verbal Advantage – Level 04 Word 11 – Word 20 MCQ Test

Verbal Advantage - Level 04 Word 11 - Word 20 MCQ Test

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Word List

  • Word 11: Panacea [PAN-uh-SEE-uh]

A cure-all, universal antidote, remedy for all diseases and difficulties.


Panacea comes from the Greek pan-, all, and akos, cure, and today retains its literal meaning, cure-all. From the same Greek pan-, all, comes the English prefix pan-, which appears in front of a number of English words: a panorama (PAN-uh-RAM-uh) is literally a view all around; pantheism (PAN-thee-iz-’m), from the Greek theos, god, is the belief that all things are God, that God is universal; and a pantheon (PAN-thee-un or -on) is a temple dedicated to all the gods, or all the gods worshiped by a given people. In current usage pantheon may also mean any group of highly respected or revered persons. When novelist Toni Morrison won a Nobel Prize in 1993, she earned a place beside such esteemed writers as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Mark Twain in the pantheon of American literature.

You have probably heard the common phrase “a panacea for all ills.” The expression is redundant, because panacea by itself means a cure for all ills, a universal remedy. You may use panacea to mean either a cure-all for physical ailments or an antidote for worldly woes: “His lawyer emphasized that filing for bankruptcy would not be a panacea for his financial troubles.”

  • Word 12: Ephemeral [i-FEM-uh-rul]

Short-lived, passing, fleeting, lasting for a short time.


(By the way, did you remember that short-lived should rhyme with strived? If you’ve forgotten why this pronunciation is preferred, see transient, word 31 of Level 2.)

Ephemeral comes from a Greek word meaning daily, lasting or living only for a day. Ephemeral is sometimes used in this literal sense, as in the phrase “ephemeral literature,” publications that come out every day, such as newspapers. Ephemeral literature is opposed to periodical literature, which refers to anything published periodically—weekly, monthly, and so on. In fact, the familiar word journalism by derivation means ephemeral literature, writing that pertains to the events of the day. Journalism and journal come from the French jour, day, as in the restaurant menu item soup du jour, soup of the day. Thus the common expression “daily journal” is redundant, for by derivation journal means something written or published each day.

Today ephemeral is most often used in a general sense to mean conspicuously brief in duration. Ephemeral ideas are popular for only a brief while; the jokes of late-night TV comedians are ephemeral, here today and gone tomorrow; an ephemeral trend in the economy or in fashion is one that passes swiftly away.

More difficult synonyms of ephemeral include transitory (word 4 of Level 5), evanescent, fugitive, and fugacious (word 24 of Level 9). For more on these words, review the discussion of transient, word 31 of Level 2.

  • Word 13: Onerous [AHN-ur-us, like honor us]

Burdensome, troublesome, oppressive, hard to bear, difficult to accomplish or endure: an onerous task, an onerous assignment.


Onerous comes from the Latin onus, a load, burden. Directly from the Latin comes the English word onus (OH-nus), a burden, obligation, especially a disagreeable responsibility. Onerous means like an onus, and therefore burdensome, troublesome, difficult to accomplish or endure.

  • Word 14: Laity [LAY-i-tee]

Nonprofessionals, laypeople collectively, all the people outside of a given profession or specialized field.


The adjective lay means nonprofessional, not belonging to a particular profession. A lay opinion of a legal case is an opinion from someone who is not a lawyer or a judge. A lay diagnosis of a disease is a diagnosis proffered by someone who is not a medical professional.

In its original and most precise sense, laity refers to all who do not belong to the clergy, to religious worshipers in general. Today laity may be used either in this way or to mean those who do not belong to a given profession.

  • Word 15: Pungent [PUN-jint]

Sharp, penetrating, biting, acrid, caustic.


Pungent comes from the same Latin source as poignant (POYNyint) and expunge—the Latin pungere, to pierce, prick. Pungent may refer to a literal piercing, to that which is sharp to the sense of taste or smell, or it may refer to a figurative piercing, to that which penetrates the mind or emotions.

A pungent sauce is sharp to the taste, perhaps spicy, sour, or bitter. A pungent critique or pungent humor is sharp and sometimes bitterly worded; it penetrates the mind or pierces the emotions in a direct and often painful way.

  • Word 16: Prosaic [proh-ZAY-ik]

Dull, ordinary, uninteresting, unimaginative.


Synonyms of prosaic include commonplace, humdrum, tedious, dry, stale, mediocre, and matter-of-fact. And those are only the prosaic synonyms of prosaic. More difficult and interesting synonyms include insipid, which means tasteless, bland; pedestrian; vapid (rhymes with rapid), word 37 of Level 8; and jejune (jiJOON), word 1 of Level 10.

Prosaic may be used literally to mean consisting of prose or of the nature of prose, as opposed to poetry. Because poetry is considered lovely and lyrical and prose is considered uninteresting and unimaginative, prosaic has come to be used figuratively to mean dull and ordinary. Today prosaic is most often used in this figurative sense. A prosaic performance is mediocre; a prosaic style is dry and stale; a prosaic explanation is humdrum, tedious, or matter- of-fact.

  • Word 17: Charlatan [SHAHR-luh-tin]

A fake, quack, imposter, fraud, humbug; specifically, a person who pretends to have a special skill or knowledge.


The words charlatan and mountebank are close in meaning and were once synonymous. Mountebank (like mount a bank) comes from the Italian montambanco, one who gets up on a bench. By derivation a mountebank is a person who mounts a bench or platform and delivers a flamboyant sales pitch to attract customers and hawk his wares. In its earliest sense, a charlatan was a huckster who made elaborate and fraudulent claims about his merchandise. In olden days, charlatans and mountebanks would travel about selling trinkets, relics, and panaceas; they were the proverbial snake-oil salesmen.

Since the early nineteenth century, however, charlatan has been used to mean a fake or a quack, someone who pretends to have a special skill or knowledge and who covers up the fraud with an elaborate and sometimes intimidating verbal display. In The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard is a classic example of a charlatan.

Today charlatans and mountebanks continue to thrive not only at carnivals and on the street corner but in the office and the boardroom as well. They’re the ones who are always giving you the glad hand and handing you a line. The difference between them is that the mountebank makes an impressive verbal display in an attempt to sell you a bill of goods, while the charlatan makes an impressive verbal display to hide the fact that he doesn’t have the skill or knowledge he claims to possess.

  • Word 18: Perfunctory [pur-FUHNGK-tur-ee]

Mechanical, routine, listless, done merely as a duty, performed in an indifferent, halfhearted, superficial, and often careless way, without interest or enthusiasm.


Perfunctory comes from a Latin verb meaning to get through, be done with. The perfunctory worker is just trying to get through doing the job; the perfunctory teacher just wants to be done with the lesson; a perfunctory speech is mechanical, routine, delivered in a halfhearted, listless manner.

  • Word 19: Morass [muh-RAS, rhymes with alas]


Literally, a swamp, marsh, bog; figuratively, something that traps, confines, or confuses, a sticky situation or troublesome state of affairs: “There was always a morass of paperwork on his desk”; “She penetrated the morass of red tape at city hall”; “Some people consider middle age the morass of life”; “The project got bogged down in a morass of trivial details.”

  • Word 20: Sophistry [SAHF-i-stree]

Deceptive reasoning, subtle and misleading argument: “Voters today want candidates who address the issues, not ones who engage in mudslinging and sophistry.”


Sophistry comes ultimately from the Greek sophos, clever, wise, the source also of the word sophisticated. The corresponding adjective is sophistic (suh-FIS-tik) or sophistical (suh-FIS-ti-kul).

In ancient Greece, the Sophists (SAHF-ists) were teachers of rhetoric, politics, and philosophy who were notorious for their deceptive and oversubtle method of argumentation. The Sophists eventually came into contempt for accepting payment for their instruction. The word sophistry retains the stigma imputed to the clever Sophists so long ago. Today sophistry refers to speech or writing that is clever and plausible but marred by false or deceptive reasoning.

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