M.B. of West Hempstead, NY, by way of Binghamton University, writes:

I'm preparing to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) on Monday, On a practice test, the antonym of the word, carom, was called for. Carom. Please tell me there's an antonym for this word that a soon-to-be college grad might know?

The College Whisperer responds:

Carom? Sounds like something Captain Kirk would say in a low budget version of Star Trek. "Mr. Spock, you have the carom!"

Carom (krm), defined by Webster's as (1) A collision followed by a rebound; (2)(a) A shot in billiards in which the cue ball successively strikes two other balls. Also called billiard. (b) A similar shot in a related game, such as pool.

Ah, trouble with a capital "T", and that rhymes with "P", and that stands for "Pool"...

Sports fans -- and not just pool aficionados -- are surely familiar with the carom, as in, "the ball caromed off the wall, out of reach of the flailing outfielder". In general usage, "the car caromed off the guardrail, hurtling into the ditch".

Granted, out of context, carom, in and of itself, connotes less of a rebound, ricochet or recoil (common synonyms for carom) than it does some type of seed that may be found atop a bagel or rye bread. In terms of etymology, though, the word, first uttered in 1779 (no doubt by the precursor of the College Board), comes from the Spanish, carombola, "the red ball in billiards," originally an orange tropical Asian fruit supposed to resemble a red billiard ball, from Marathi (southern Indian), karambal.  The verb, meaning to strike or rebound, followed almost a century later, in 1860 (talk about a slow recovery of the carom), from the noun.

But we digress.

Apparently, M.B., you haven't been hanging out at the local pool hall or billiard parlour during your college career, lest the word carom -- and certainly its antonym (anti-carom???) -- would have readily come to mind.

Webster's does not provide an antonym for carom, nor do the many online dictionaries I have searched, though synonyms aplenty abound.

You do not say what choices the GRE prepsters gave you as a portended antonym, and we presume that all of the above and none of the above could be summarily ruled out.

The best bet, then, short of conjuring up the spirit of the fictional Minnesota Fats, is to select an answer that most closely fits the antonym of a synonym, of which we shall, for the sake of saving the lowly lives of electrons, such as they may be, name but a few.

backlash, bob, boomerang, bound, buck, bump, fly back, glance off, hop, hurdle, jerk up and down, jounce, jump, kick, leap , rebound, recoil, resile, ricochet, saltate, snap back, spring back, thump, vault.

Of course, this, too, presumes that carom is used as noun, with the primary definition of "a collision followed by a rebound," and not as the ever-popular in local bar circles as, "a shot in billiards in which the cue ball successively strikes two other balls." [No, we're not even going to go there...]

You may recoil at the inane propositions (if not prepositions) proffered by the GRE (the big kids version of the SAT), but, with any luck, once the test (of what, we wouldn't venture a guess. Billiard rules, perhaps?) is over and done with, you will rebound. If not, you could always spring back, doing what many college seniors (21 and over) resort to after taking the GRE, and similar so-called standardized achievement, aptitude, or whatever the current genre of tests (which, hopefully, you will never ever have to see again) may be acronymed as; Carom off the dorm room wall and into the arms of a cheerful barkeep.

Yes, M.B., you are about to graduate college, Phi Beta Kappa, honors in English with a concentration in Rhetoric, editor-in-chief of your university's student newspaper. And still, by rite of passage (and the will of the College Board, soaking students and their parents out of their hard-earned money since 1900  -- the GRE costs $160 a shot these days, plus $$$ to send your score reports), you must prove yourself worthy of admission yet again, muddling through what we call the SAT on steroids (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT), separating the pool sharks from those who merely carom off the bedpost.

Ay, caramba!  [Having absolutely nothing to do with the carom, we're afraid.]

So go ahead, M.B. Give the GRE your best shot (or should we say, carom shot?) We have every confidence that you'll do just fine!
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Coming Up: Every high school student's nightmare. Facing the SAT with only a number 3 pencil.
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