THE LANGUAGE OF IDEAS: VOCABULARY FOR SAT EVIDENCE-BASED READING
10 THE LANGUAGE OF CHANGE AND FORCE
catalyst (n) kata- down, fall + luein loosen
something that stimulates and expedites a process, often a chemical one : Coach Johnson’s speech was the catalyst that turned our football season around.
Form: catalyze = to cause (a process) to accelerate, catalytic = acting as or relating to a catalyst, catalysis = the acceleration of a process via a catalyst
Root family: [cata] cataclysm (a violent natural event), catastrophe (disaster), catapult (a machine for heaving heavy objects), cataract (a waterfall), category (a class under which many elements “fall”)
Don’t confuse with: cataclysm (a violent natural event)
Mnemonic: The word catalyst (kata- down + luein loosen) may have come from the idea of a single event, like a shifting stone, causing snow or rocks to cascade into an avalanche.
disperse (v) dis- apart + spargere to scatter or sprinkle
to spread or scatter over a wide area : The crowd soon dispersed after it was announced that the band had left the stadium.
Form: dispersion = scattering over a wide area
Root family: [dis-] discernment (the ability to make fine distinctions), disparate (very different; variegated), discrepancy (a lack of compatibility between facts or claims), disseminate (to cast widely), dispel (to drive away; to eliminate), diffuse (spread over a wide area)
Root family: [spers] aspersion (a derogatory remark), interspersed (distributed at intervals)
Don’t confuse with: dispense (supply, distribute, or provide), diverse (showing great variety)
lasting a very short time : Designers try to capture the most ephemeral trends.
Forms: ephemera (plural of ephemeron) = things that last only a short time : The trappings of fame are mere ephemera.
Synonyms: fleeting, transient, evanescent
Don’t confuse with: ethereal (delicate and sublime, as an ether)
impetus (n) im- toward + petere to strive after
the force that makes something move or energizes a process : The coach’s speech provided the impetus for the team to redouble its efforts in the second half.
Root family: [im-] impugn (to call into question), impute (to attribute something to someone)
Root family: [pet] impetuous (spontaneous and without planning), perpetuate (to help continue for an extended period), petulant (childishly ill-tempered)
Don’t confuse with: impious (not devoutly religious), impish (mischievous)
Mnemonic: Imagine an imp (a mischievous child) poking you (impaling you?) in the back and giving you the impetus to run faster.
intermittent (adj) inter- between + mittere to send
occurring at irregular intervals; not continuous : The sound of intermittent gunfire revealed that the peace accord was a fragile one.
Forms: intermit (v) = to postpone, intermittence = the quality of being intermittent
Root family: [inter-] intervene (to come between to alter events), international (pertaining to one or more countries)
Root family: [miss, mit] submissive (meekly obedient), dismiss (send away), unremitting (not letting up)
Don’t confuse with: interminable (unending)
mutable (adj) mutare to change
changeable : Her moods are as mutable as the weather.
Forms: immutable = unchangeable, mutability = changeability
Synonyms: protean, fickle, mercurial
Root family: [mut] commute (to travel to and from work; to reduce a criminal sentence; to rearrange numbers that are being added or multiplied), mutation (a change in the structure of a gene, or the result of that change), permutation (rearrangement)
Don’t confuse with: mute (to silence)
Mnemonic: Something that is malleable can be shaped by a mallet, like clay or a soft metal can.
ossify (adj) os bone + -ify to make
to turn into bone; to become stagnant or rigid : Julia could feel her creative impulses ossify as she became inured to the bureaucratic regulations of her job.
Don’t confuse with: oscillate (swing back and forth)
Mnemonic: The Latin os, meaning “bone,” can be found in a few medical terms you might be familiar with, like osteoarthritis (degeneration of the bone that causes pain in joints) or osteoporosis (the gradual weakening of the bones from loss of tissue due to hormonal changes). Therefore, to ossify is to “make into bone.”
precipitous (adj) praecipitare to throw headlong
 dangerously high or steep : It was a precipitous drop to the lake.
 (of a decline) sudden and dramatic : The merger led to a precipitous decline in the company’s stock value.
 (also precipitate [pre sip eh TET]) hasty : The announcement of the layoffs, unfortunately, was precipitous (or precipitate).
Form: precipice = steep rock face or cliff
Don’t confuse with: precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, or hail)
Mnemonic: The nouns precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, or hail), precipice (high cliff), and precipitousness (hastiness) all derive from the Latin praecipitare, (to throw headlong), from prae- (before) + caput (head). Notice how they all pertain to the action of “throwing down” in different ways.
Usage: See usage note at expedite in section 14.
synthesis (n) syn- together + tithenai to place
the act of combining elements into a whole, as ideas into a system, or simpler elements into a compound : The concert was a synthesis of modern dance, jazz, and slam poetry
Forms: synthesize = to create something by combining elements, synthetic = formed by human agency via assembling chemical components
Root family: [thes, thet, them] thesis (a theory proposed as a premise), antithesis (a theory presented to oppose a given thesis), prosthesis (an artificial body part), epithet (an adjective or descriptive phrase referring to a defining quality of a person or thing, such as lionhearted in Richard the Lionhearted), anathema (something that is vehemently disliked)
transient (adj) trans to a different place + ire to go
lasting a short period of time : Selena’s sense of satisfaction was transient.
Forms: transience = impermanence, transitory = transient, transient (n) = a homeless person
Synonyms: fleeting, ephemeral, evanescent
Root family: [trans-] transcend (to rise above), transportation (means of carrying from place to place), translation (the act or result of expressing something in a different language)
Don’t confuse with: intransigent (stubbornly unwilling to change one’s views)
volatile (adj) volare to fly
prone to unpredictable, rapid, and undesirable changes or displays of emotion; explosive : The convergence of the opposing protest marches created a volatile and dangerous situation.
Synonyms: incendiary, inflammatory
Root family: [vol] volley (an exchange of tennis shots; a series of utterances; a flurry of projectiles)
Don’t confuse with: versatile
Mnemonic: In chemistry, a volatile liquid (such as gasoline) is one that evaporates very quickly and, often, one whose vapors are flammable or explosive. The vapors “fly” (volare = to fly) from the liquid, just as volatile situations tend to “fly” out of control.