THE LANGUAGE OF IDEAS: VOCABULARY FOR SAT EVIDENCE-BASED READING
18 THE LANGUAGE OF WISDOM, STRENGTH, AND SKILL
adroit (adj) a droit as to the right (Fr < L dexter right)
skillful : He was such an adroit salesman that he could sell ice cubes to polar bears.
Form: adroitness = skillfulness
Synonyms: adept, dexterous, deft, proficient
Root family: [dext, droit] dexterity (skill), ambidextrous (having skill in using either hand)
Mnemonic: French speakers will recognize the word adroit from the French phrase a droit, “to the right.” This continues a trend in Romance languages to associate right-handedness with skill and the left-handedness with awkwardness or deceit. For instance, the French word gauche, “left,” in English means “socially inept.” Similarly, the Latin word dexter, “on the right,” is the root of dexterity (skill) and ambidextrous (skilled in using both hands), and the Latin word sinister, “left,” has come to mean “malevolent” in English.
having or showing keen insight : The announcers made many astute comments about the game.
Synonyms: sagacious, prudent, shrewd, canny, incisive
Don’t confuse with: acute (keen, as pain or ability)
Usage: Although astute, sagacious, prudent, judicious, shrewd, canny, and incisive are similar, they offer different shades of meaning. Astute comes from the Latin astutus (craft), so an astute person is likely to have acquired keen insight through careful study; a sagacious person, however, is likely to have acquired this insight from the benefit of age and trial; a prudent person is both wise and conservative; a judicious person is a keen overall adjudicator, whether he or she has acquired that ability through study, age, or trial; a shrewd or canny person is insightful and even a bit cunning, particularly in pursuit of a goal like power, compromise, or money; an incisive commentator has the power to “cut” (cis = cut) to the heart of the matter.
discernment (n) dis- apart + cernere to distinguish
the ability to make sound judgments and fine distinctions : Becoming a master oenologist requires not only discernment but also constant study of wines and how they are produced.
Forms: discern = to perceive something as being distinct from other things, discerning = having a keen ability to make fine distinctions
Synonyms: perspicacity, percipience
Root family: [dis-] disparate (very different; variegated), discrepancy (a lack of compatibility between facts or claims), disseminate (to cast widely), disperse (to spread or scatter), dispel (to drive away; to eliminate), diffuse (spread over a wide area)
Root family: [cern, cert] ascertain (find something out for certain), certain (known for sure), certify (formally attest or confirm)
discretion (n) discretus separate
sensitivity in dealing with others, particularly in not causing offense : The teacher showed admirable discretion in not revealing the students’ grades out loud.
Forms: discreet = careful in not causing offense, discretionary = subject to a particular judgment, indiscreet = not careful to avoid offense
Synonyms: tact, tactfulness
Don’t confuse discreet with discrete (individually distinct : The program is broken down into 12 discrete steps.)
ethics (n) ethos customs, behavior
 a set of moral principles : His ethics were dubious.
 the study of moral principles : David failed his course in medical ethics.
Forms: ethicist = one who studies ethics (ethologists study animal behavior), ethic = moral principles relating to a specific group or field (puritan ethic), ethical = morally correct; pertaining to ethics
exacting (adj) ex- (intensive) + agere to perform
making great demands on one’s skills : Rock climbing is a very exacting task.
Form: exact (v) = to demand and obtain, usually as a payment : Caesar exacted a tax on all Roman citizens.
Root family: [agi, age, act] agent (someone or something that produces a desired effect), agenda (list of items to be accomplished at a meeting), agile (able to move quickly and skillfully), exigent (pressing; placing demands on someone or something), inactive (not active)
Usage: Exacting does not mean exact (adj). Both words derive from exigere (to drive out), but the adjective exact derives from a more recent Latin word, exactus (precise).
exemplar (n) exemplum sample (< ex- out + emere to take)
someone or something serving as an ideal example of something : William “Boss” Tweed stands as the exemplar of American political corruption and greed.
Form: exemplary = serving as an excellent example
Synonyms: apotheosis, nonpareil, paragon
Root family: [e-, ex-] extol (to praise highly), extemporaneous (without planning), exuberant (filled with liveliness and energy), elusive (difficult to catch or achieve)
Root family: [emp, empt, sumpt] consumption (the process of eating or using resources), presumptuous (failing to observe appropriate limits of behavior), preempt (take action to prevent another event from happening), peremptory (insisting on immediate attention), sumptuous(splendid and abundant)
limber and graceful : The dancers resembled nothing so much as rippling water as their lithe bodies undulated rhythmically.
Synonyms: agile, supple, limber, lissome
Don’t confuse with: loathe (to hate), blithe (carefree), lathe (a rotating machine for shaping wood)
Mnemonic: Lithe dancers can lightly writhe, like weightless strips of silk waving in the breeze.
focused on fact rather than opinion : A good journalist must try to remain objective even when covering emotionally poignant stories.
Form: objectivity = the state of being objective
Synonyms: impartial, dispassionate, disinterested, nonpartisan
Usage: Although objective, impartial, dispassionate, disinterested, and nonpartisan are similar, they offer different shades of meaning. A scientist or journalist should be objective, that is, focused on facts (objects), to the exclusion of opinions, in the pursuit of gathering and analyzing information; a good judge should be impartial, that is, lacking any bias for or against any of the disputants (legal parties); a wise judge is also dispassionate, that is, actively discounting his or her feelings (passions) in favor of the facts; a disinterested judge avoids considerations of personal advantage (interest); and a fair-minded politician is nonpartisan, that is, inclined to elevate pragmatic concerns over political ideology (the party line).
Usage: In modern usage objective is the opposite of subjective (based on opinion rather than fact).
pragmatic (adj) pragma deed
concerned with practical rather than idealistic considerations : Her choice of car was more pragmatic than aesthetic.
Forms: pragmatism = belief that practical qualities are more important than idealistic ones, pragmatist = a pragmatic person
Don’t confuse with: dogmatic
Usage: Pragmatic and practical have very similar meanings and origins, but while a pair of shoes might be practical (suitable to and effective for general purposes), only people can be pragmatic. Pragmatic can describe a frame of mind or a method, but not a thing.
proficient (adj) pro- for + facere to do or make
competent or skilled in a particular task : He is a proficient drummer, if not an exceptionally talented one.
Form: proficiency = skill in a particular task
Synonyms: adept, adroit, deft, dexterous
Root family: [pro-] protracted (lasting longer than expected), prophecy (prediction), promote (further the progress of something; raise in rank), progeny (offspring), reciprocate (to respond in kind)
Root family: [fic, fac, fec, -ify] facile (simplistic), munificent (generous), diversify (to make more varied), ossify (to turn into bone), efficacy (ability to produce the intended result)
having or showing good judgment and discernment : We needed the sagacious mind of Uncle Ted to help us resolve our differences.
Forms: sagacity = wisdom and discernment, sage = a wise person
Synonyms: astute, prudent, judicious, shrewd, canny, incisive
Usage: See usage note at astute in this section.
valor (n) valere to be strong
courage and nobility in the face of danger : His valor on the battlefield earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Form: valiant = courageous
Root family: [val] prevalent (widespread and abundant), ambivalent (having mixed feelings), valence (the power of an atom to make bonds with other atoms)
Don’t confuse with: pallor an unhealthy pale appearance