Dept. of Word Lists

SAT Vocabulary Deconstructed

You may remember an interview we did last year with Katie Raynolds, a remarkable 10th grader and dedicated linguaphile from Seattle, Washington. Katie recently spent a busy week with us here at the VT's New York office as our editorial intern, and put together this list of SAT words -- with tips on how to remember them:

The SAT, of course, is one of the most important tests a student takes during their scholastic career. I can't help you with the math section, but I thought to give you a useful method for remembering tricky vocabulary. In the list below, I'll show you "memory hooks" you can find right within the word and its Latin root. I'll also share some cool linguistic histories!

Root: Dubious derives from the Latin word dubitare (to waver, to hesitate)
Relatives: Doubt
Hook: When you see the dub-, you should remember the word doubt.

Root: Brevity comes from the Latin breve (short)
Relatives: Abbreviation, brief, breve
Hook: If you're more familiar with the word abbreviation, then you should see the brev- in brevity and remember short!

Root: The main root you should concern yourself with is the Latin cernere (to separate, sift or distinguish)
Relatives: Concern, secern, certify
Hook: You should associate the root cern- with the idea of sense. To be concerned means that you are focusing your sense; similarly, to discern is to understand something using your senses.

Root: Not surprisingly, jocular comes from the Latin word jocus (little joke)
Relatives: Joke
Hook: Okay, this is an easy one; just remember joke! If someone is joke-ular, then they're always in good humor and cracking jokes.

Root: Succinct has an interesting history: it came from cingere which in Latin means "to gather up, to gird." Originally this word was used when talking about clothing, but in the 16th century the meaning changed; now instead of tightening a dress, we talk about tightening an explanation from something lengthy into a shorter account.
Relatives: Cinch
Hook: Remember the parallel that succinct has with its cousin cinch, and the idea of tightening. When you make something succinct instead of long, you are tightening the idea.

Root: The important root for you to find is Latin pudere (to feel shame, to make ashamed). The prefix of re- serves to intensify the action.
Relatives: Impudent
Hook: Associate the idea of shame with this word. I also find it helpful to remember the word impudent. If you are impudent, you may be repudiated!

Root: Innocuous comes from the Latin root nox- (harm). When you see the prefix in- before the main root, you know that it means not. So we can tell just from the roots of this word that it means "not harmful."
Relatives: Noxious, innocent
Hook: The easiest way to remember this word is to look at the innoc- at the beginning of the word and recall its relative innocent. While this comparison does not give you the exact definition of innocuous, it should jumpstart your brain if you're having trouble recognizing the word.

Root: Precocious has a peculiar history: it derives from the Latin word praecoquere (to bake or ripen early) Look familiar? This Latin word looks just like pre-cooked. The meaning changed significantly in the 17th century, and now it usually applies to people, not fruit or cakes.
Relatives: Precooked, cook
Hook: When a child is precocious, they are unusually mature, either physically or mentally. They are like an early-ripened fruit, or a pre-cooked cake.

Root: The most helpful root for tangential is the Latin root tang- (to touch).
Relatives: Tangent, tangible
Hook: If tangential comes from a word meaning "to touch," then you should think of tangential in this manner: if something is tangential, then it is barely touching upon the subject at hand.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday May 30th 2007, 8:24 PM
Comment by: William P.
From an early age I was considered precocious. My use of words surprised adults, especially my pediatrician. When he asked me how I was feeling, my answers were always very succinct. My mother would often repudiate my comments. She told him that I was very lazy. What she considered as laziness I considered brevity. The pediatrician thought my mother's remark dubious. He said that he could easily discern between laziness and brevity.

I was a happy child, even after my mother's hurtful comments I remained jocular. My mother told me not to refute her word. I tried to tell my mother that I thought my comment was innocuous and that my intent was not to argue, only to express an opinion.
Finally I became angry. I remarked that her comment was tangential at best.
Saturday August 25th 2007, 9:01 AM
Comment by: Jeff D.
This is my first use of my subcription to Visual Thesaurus. Very cool. I love it.
Friday December 7th 2007, 10:07 AM
Comment by: Florence A.
What a bust for cutting out "the middle man" (clueless!)..the "hooks" are a big help...thanks so much!
Saturday April 12th 2008, 8:50 AM
Comment by: Jeff T.
My own love of words started with the vocabulary consisting of words and phrases derived mostly from one language, Latin, used to specify how to use another, the universal language of music. As I learned the meaning of words like marcatto, stocatto, alla breve, tacit, rondo, sonata, ritardo, and accelerondo, my interest grew and I started using dictionaries and became fascinated with etymology. I worked for a while with a couple of people from Italy and really made them laugh one day when I strung together random terms from music as if I was speaking Italian, "Andante cantabile moderato et crescendo tutti maestoso" or some similar nonsense.
Monday April 14th 2008, 4:18 AM
Comment by: Mike M.
The larger your vocabulary the more difficult it is to communicate.

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