Sometimes it is Greek: Pugilist

Pugilists are people who fight with their fists, specifically professional boxers.

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: Pugilist

A pugilist is a person who fights with his or her fists, specifically a professional boxer.

Most sources indicate that the word’s first use can be traced back as far as 1790. Pugilist is derived from the Latin word pugil which means boxer, which is related to pugnus, or “fist.” There are many words related to these two Latin etymons. Some, like our word of the week, are similar in definition and obvious paronyms; others, despite being obvious derivations of these source words, have evolved in meaning in somewhat humorous ways.

One pronoun of the pugilist is the word pungent, which means sharply painful; pungent can also describe an acrid irritation, specifically in the sense of taste or smell. Though not a direct descendant of pugnus (pungent is more closely related to pungēns, which means “sting’), their connection is obvious and frequently cited by linguistic authorities. Another derivation of the word pugil is the adjective pugnacious, which means having a quarrelsome or combative nature.

Before he was Muhammad Ali, he was Cassius Clay.

The most famous pugilist of all time is Muhammad Ali; however, is Ali the best pugilist of all time? Unfortunately, this is not the forum for a debate of that magnitude. So, instead, here are a few famous Muhammad Ali quotes:

“I am the greatest; I said that even before I knew I was.”

“I’ll beat him so bad he’ll need a shoehorn to put his hat on.”

“Silence is golden if you can’t think of a good answer.”

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

Sample Sentence:

Paul, Peggy’s pugilist paramour, periodically pummeled pietistic pacifists; precipitately, Peggy’s puckish pals pranked Paul pitilessly.


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




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