Sometimes it is Greek: Bilk

Johan Tetzel, a bilker from the Middle Ages, claimed he was selling indulgences to help build a new church but instead pocketed the money for himself.

Each week, “It’s not GREek!” will discuss a new word likely to appear on the GRE.  We aim not only to give you a new word to memorize, but also to provide you with some background and etymological history to help you remember it.  At the end of the post, we will also give you a sentence with a few other new words to add to your flash cards.  By following this weekly series, you should be more prepared than ever to tackle the sentence completion, sentence equivalencies, and reading comprehension questions on test day.

This Week’s Word:  Bilk

No, not milk beer! (Yes, that’s a real thing.)  Bilking is something that would be more appropriate on the Sopranos, or in 1950s Chicago.  It’s the type of thing you desperately hope never happens in banks or on Wall Street.

Bilk is a verb that means to cheat out of something valuable or defraud.  There is a distinction between bilking someone and flat out robbing them; bilking is a subtle, non-violent method that masquerades as legitimate.  The noun form of bilk is bilker.  A bilker is an untrusty individual or a cheat.  King of Ponzi schemes Bernie Madoff is a fine example of the more notorious bilkers in history.

Some of the more fun synonyms for bilk? Chouse, cozen,euchre, flimflam,mulct, and nobble (if you’re British).

N.B.: Bilk the verb can also mean to block the free development of, to frustrate, or to slip away from.

The etymology of bilk is somewhat obscure.  It was first used as a cribbage term in the early 1600s.  The word is believed to originate from a 17th century word meaning “signifying nothing,” and may be of Arab origin.  It is also thought to be an alteration of the word balk.  The first time bilk was used to mean defraud was in 1672.

Sample Sentence:

The bilker Bob euchred the beffuddled boys by bestowing them with bedraggled baubles and bogus gems as payment.

Miss last week’s “Sometimes it is Greek?” Check it out here.  Want more GRE vocabulary? Click here for the free TestMasters GRE vocabulary list with over 2,000 words!

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