How Well Do You Remember Your SAT Words?

Marie Hullett

Image: Hill Street Studios / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Do you know that knell means "the sound of a bell rung slowly to announce a death," or that cavort means "to play boisterously"? What about the meaning of impecunious? ("Not having enough money to pay for necessities.") While these words might not be used very often in speech today, the creators of the SAT apparently found them to be of sufficient importance to include in their college assessment tests over the years. 

Whether you have a penchant for locution or find SAT vocabulary onerous, learning a few more words is never pernicious. In fact, doing so serves the utilitarian purpose of improving your communication, reading and language skills; you can also use these words to make your prose a little more florid, if you wish. Be assiduous not to fall into grandiloquence, though, lest you sound like an ignoramus! (No, you can't possibly impute that I sound like one!) 

Now it's time to test your vocabulary acumen with the following quiz. If you don't know the meaning of all the words in these past few paragraphs, you can definitely take that as a portent of what's to come...

OK, don't be timorous or diffident. Just give it a try! 

Do you know what the SAT word "ignominious" means?

Ignominious is often used to refer to a humiliating defeat; for example, "The politician endured an ignominious loss." The word comes from the Latin word "nomen," which means to "repute" or "name." Thus, an ignominious fate can taint one's name. As in, the athlete's ignominious scandal led to him to hide from the public eye.

Which of the following verbs means "to split up into branches or parts"?

Ramify comes from the Latin word for branch, "ramus." As in, "The internet further ramified news consumers as the number of available media sources grew." The opposite of ramify is to join or unify.

Can you identify the word that means "relating to hostile opposition"?

Adversarial is an adjective derived from the Latin word adversarius, which means "opposed." As in, "If you maintain an adversarial demeanor in life, you might wind up with a lot of enemies."

Yum, this red wine definitely _____________ the pasta. Can you fill in the blank with the most logical option?

As a verb, complement means to add to something in a way that enhances it or makes it perfect. Compliment, meanwhile, means to congratulate or praise someone for something. So, you can compliment someone on how well their blouse complements their eyes.

The politician made an egregious decision. What is another way to say this?

Egregious means "outstandingly bad" or "shocking." While egregious meant "illustrious" and "remarkably good" in the mid 16th century, by the 17th century it meant "bad." Historical linguists think the contemporary definition initially emerged as an ironic usage. (Think how "Oh, that's just great" can mean "awful.")

Which of the following is a verb that means "to instigate or stir up" problems, violence or other undesirable outcomes?

Foment comes from the Latin word "fomentum," which means "poultice, lotion." That doesn't make a lot of sense until you learn that hundreds of years ago, foment meant to bathe the body in "warm or medicated lotions." Today, it means to stir up trouble. For example, a corrupt leader might foment political unrest.

What is a synonym for abject?

When referring to a person or behavior, abject means "without pride or dignity, self-abasing." For example, some might view a corrupt politician as an abject leader. It can also mean something "experienced to the maximum degree," as in, "Her presentation was an abject failure, and now she's in trouble with her boss."

Which of these words means "steady, respectable, and unadventurous"?

Staid often refers to people or things that are dignified and respectable, but possibly a little boring. For instance, a fancy dinner party full of wealthy investors might be staid. Appropriately, "staid" is pronounced like "stayed" and comes from the Latin word for "fixed" or "permanent."

Weight loss seemed like the ____________ for all her problems, but Tamara still felt unhappy. Which of the following is the most suitable word for the blank?

A panacea is something that purports to be a cure-all. Although advertisements constantly bombard us with promises of panaceas, it's unlikely that one pill, program or object can solve all our problems.

How would you describe a calm, composed and seemingly unemotional person?

Phlegmatic is sometimes used in a complimentary sense, such as being calm, cool and collected, but it can also be pejorative. For instance, a phlegmatic person could be called dull, cold and apathetic. Either way you spin it, the guards at Buckingham Palace could definitely be called phlegmatic, at least while on duty.

The _____________ teens in the library made everyone turn away and plug their ears.

Obstreperous refers to someone or something that's "noisy and difficult to control." If a couple of teenagers who are yelling at each other won't listen to the librarian's pleas to be quiet, you could certainly call them obstreperous.

Which verb means to "avoid, revoke, or abolish"?

Abrogate typically appears in a legal or political context, as in, "The government abrogated the public surveillance law." Abrogate comes from the Latin prefix ab-, meaning "away," and "rogare," meaning "to propose a law." Thus, abrogate literally means to "propose a law away."

A newly-elected politician who has never held office before and doesn't understand the inner-workings of the game might be called a _______.

Neophyte comes from neo-, which means new, and the Greek word "phuton," which means plant. Thus, like a young sapling, a neophyte is someone who is new to an activity. Neophyte is often referred to someone who is a new religious convert.

Even though he betrayed his friend, Elliot felt no ___________.

Compunction is a noun meaning "a feeling of guilt or moral scruple that prevents or follows the doing of something bad," according to Merriam-Webster. Compunction is derived from the Latin word "compungere," which means "to prick" or "sting." After you do something wrong, you might very well feel a prick of compunction.

Which of the following words means "to obtain or withhold money from someone by deceit or without justification"?

Bilk is an informal word that basically means to cheat. As in, corrupt companies may bilk their consumers or investors, or scammers may bilk the elderly or vulnerable out of all of their savings.

Which of these words is a synonym for slander?

Calumny is "the making of false and defamatory statements about someone in order to damage their reputation," which is another word for slander. It comes from the Latin word "calvi," which means "to trick" or "deceive." Calumny doesn't always have to involve an outright false statement; it could also be used to describe words that are deliberately taken out of context, as you might often find in politics.

Which verb means to "formally reject or disavow a formerly held belief," often "under pressure"?

Abjure essentially means to swear off something, often when you once believed or associated yourself with it. As in, "Though she grew up Mormon, she left the Church of Latter Day Saints and abjured the religion."

Nyla was prepared to sue unless the accused ___________ to her terms.

Capitulate means to acquiesce, surrender or stop resisting. It comes from the medieval Latin word "capitulare," which means to "draw up under headings." Often, capitulating involves surrendering to certain terms, i.e., those that might be drawn up under headings.

Having prepared extensively for her acceptance speech, Lucy felt extremely confident. The morning of the event, she began her day with fresh __________.

Alacrity is a noun meaning "brisk and cheerful readiness." The word comes from the Latin word "alacritas," which means "brisk" and "lively." The antonym of alacrity is apathy. Which do you have today? (No judgement!)

How might you describe a party that's fun and lively?

Convivial comes from the Latin word "convivium," which means "a feast." In the 1660s, the word convivial initially meant to indulge in an excess of food or drink at a lively celebration. These days, it might be used to refer to anyone or any event that's a lot of fun.

If your friend always bestows lavish gifts upon loved ones, you might admire them for their ______.

Largesse means "generosity in bestowing money or gifts upon others;" it can also refer to the actual gifts generously given, i.e., "The family distributed largesse to the entire neighborhood." It comes from the Latin word "largus," which means "copious."

A publication written as a series of letters is called what?

Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" are examples of epistolary novels. Epistolary comes from the French word épistolaire and the Late Latin word "epistolarius," which means "belonging to letters."

Which of the following is a verb that means to blame someone for something undesirable?

In addition to placing blame for undesirable outcomes, "impute" can also involve attributing anything to anyone. For instance, you might impute someone's success to their wealthy, private-school upbringing. In finance, impute often means to assign value; as in, "The corporate merchandiser imputed the blouse's market value to be about $50."

Which of these nouns is a synonym for deceit or trickery?

Legerdemain means deception, but it also means "skillful use of one's hands when performing tricks." Thus, a talented magician practices legerdemain. The word comes from the French "léger de main," which means "dexterous."

Finally, you arrive at a faint glimmer of an idea for your award-winning novel. How might you describe this idea?

Inchoate describes something has "just begun and not fully formed or developed," according to Merriam-Webster. It stems from the Latin word "incohare," which means "begin." For example, you might start to have inchoate romantic feelings for someone on the first or second date.

In attempt to evade law enforcement, the wanted criminal __________ to Mexico with the stolen money in hand.

Absconded means to escape, often with something in tow. It is most often used to describe someone who flees from the law or captivity, such as when Julian Assange skipped bail and absconded to Ecuador.

Which of these words is a synonym for "glutton" or "connoisseur of good food"?

A gourmand is often used to describe someone who engorges themselves with food, but it can also refer to one who is simply a connoisseur of delicious eats. So, if you have to try all the restaurants that are all the rage, you just might be a gourmand. Who can blame you?

The critic absolutely detested the art exhibit, so much so that they deemed it _____.

Execrable means very bad or unpleasant, and it's no coincidence that it's very close to "excrement." Naturally, no one wants to have their work called this, but critics throw the word around all the time. It comes from the Latin word exsecrari, which means "to curse."

Edward was extremely __________ in his stance on health care, refusing to even listen to another perspective.

Obdurate essentially means stubborn. It comes from the Latin word "to harden," as in the stony demeanor of someone who is set in their belief system. It can also mean "showing unfeeling resistance to tender feelings," as in, "The tribulations of the impoverished did not move the obdurate man in the slightest."

Which of these adjectives means "relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance"?

A harsh, humorless boss might be considered dour, and someone might look dour after being fired by such a boss. Historical linguists think dour most likely comes from the Latin word "durus," which means "hard."

The cheesy Valentine's Day card Tiana found on her desk made her cringe. What is an adjective she might use to describe the card?

Some people love trite, over-the-top displays of sentimentality; others may find them mawkish. Mawkish means overly sentimental in a "sickly way." This word is relatively uncommon these days, but go ahead and use it next time you find yourself rolling your eyes at a rom-com.

Some might call the behavior of a politician exposed for adultery _________.

Licentious means "promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters," which might be used to describe someone perceived as unfaithful, creepy or worse, depending on your views. The word comes from the Latin word licentia, which means "freedom."

Parents that really want to see their children succeed academically might __________ them to enroll in college preparation courses.

Exhort means to "strongly encourage or urge someone to do something." It's derived from the Latin "exhortari," in which "ex-" means "thoroughly" and "hortari" means "encourage." So next time you want to cheer on your team, go ahead and exhort them to win.

Which of the following words means "to reveal the presence of" or to "make plain"?

If you're feeling down in the dumps, your frown might evince your unhappiness to others. Meanwhile, the evidence the FBI collected in the case might evince the primary suspect's innocence.

What is another word for an all-controlling leader (typically one that uses their power in a cruel way)?

Despot comes from the Greek word despotēs, meaning "master" or "absolute ruler." The word was first used as a Byzantine court title given to the sons of reigning empires. In contemporary usage, it typically refers to oppressive leaders, as in, "Today, there are many despots leading nations across the globe."

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