The following is a GRE sentence completion question.

The most striking thing about the politician is how often his politics have been (i)_____rather than ideological, as he adapts his political positions at any particular moment to the political realities that constrain him. He does not, however, piously (ii)_____political principles only to betray them in practice. Rather, he attempts in subtle ways to balance his political self-interest with a (iii)_____, viewing himself as an instrument of some unchanging higher purpose.


a. quixotic, brandish, thoroughgoing pragmatism
b. strategic, brandish, deeply felt moral code (correct answer)
c. self-righteous, flout, deeply felt moral code
d. self-righteous, brandish, profound cynicism
e. strategic, follow, profound cynicism

I am able to get how strategic and deeply felt moral code fits in the first and third blank but confused about the second blank. What is the intention behind choosing brandish? Why not follow or flout?

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    – tchrist
    Aug 28 '16 at 18:23

"Piously" (reverently) is inconsistent with "flout" (openly disregard) and one cannot both "follow" and "betray" a set of principles. One can, however, "wave or flourish (something, especially a weapon) as a threat or in anger or excitement" an ideology without genuine commitment. (Check out ANY political advertisement.) If instead of "flout", the similar sounding word, "flaunt" (display something ostentatiously, especially in order to provoke envy or admiration or to show defiance), had been offered as a choice, the solution would have,indeed, been ambiguous.

  • This is a good answer, particularly in identifying the intentional complication that the test makers have introduced by offering flout (which is so often confused with flaunt) as a choice. Basically, the path to the correct answer is two steps long: (1) recognize that choices (b) and (e) are the only ones that offer a truly oppositional word to "ideological" (namely, "strategic"); and (2) recognize that "brandish" figuratively means "wave about" and so makes a valid counterpoint to betrayal of the selfsame principles, whereas "follow" doesn't make sense as such a counterpoint.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 29 '16 at 23:03
  • 1
    I would assert that "piously" can be used to describe just about any action, from self-sacrifice to committing murder. A certain Arizona sheriff has piously flouted numerous court judgments.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 30 '16 at 12:12

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