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GRE Vocab Wednesday: ‘S’ Words

A few months back a “Clemmonsdogpark-er” had asked me to do a ‘S’-based Vocab Wed. in honor of his first name. This request is perfect since I’ve never had a ‘S’-based Vocab Wednesday. Below are some words—a few of which are high-frequency—that have yet to be featured on Vocab Wed. (Yes, Solomon, I’m talking about you!).


Many things are typically knock-offs of something else. Indeed, very few things are not only one of kind but also go on to influence countless imitators. To this rare group, we have the word seminal. In physics, the ideas of Newton and Einstein are seminal; in music, the music of Bach and that of the Beatles is seminal; in technology, the microchip and the iPhone merit the word seminal.


Fresh mountain air; kale juice and coconut water; meditation and good sleep—all are salubrious. That is, they are healthy for us. Not only things that are good for us, but also places that are in good shape and not rundown are salubrious. A neighborhood that is not salubrious might have ramshackle buildings with drug dealers cooking meth inside, a la Walter White.


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A fancy way of saying wise, sapient has fallen out of use in the last fifty years. This is perhaps not too surprising given that we already have a fancy way of saying wise: sagacious. Still, the GRE might throw this in as a distractor: Is the answer sapient or viscous? Well, if you want a word that means flowing like sap, you’ll want to pick the latter.


I always picture a sick elephant when I hear this word. Yet, this word has nothing to do with ailing pachyderms: it means shamelessly kissing up to someone to get ahead. I suppose a Republican—a political party by an elephant—who flatters to get ahead and who suddenly feels ill could be called be a ‘sycophant’ (indulge me a little on that one). Of course, any person in the world can be a sycophant by simply kissing up to get ahead. The adjective form, sycophantic, is also common.


This word has nothing to do with citrus fruits or sandwiches (or, for that matter, under, which the root sub- commonly denotes). If you want to describe something that is so amazing as to make your jaw drop, sublime is the word. A sunset, in which magenta and crimson hues paint the sky, is sublime. Mozart’s piano concertos, in which he seems to be channeling the music of angels, are sublime. The winning goal in the World Cup, in which that German guy bounced the ball off his chest and kicked it into the one millimeter of available goal space…sublime.


Literally, a salvo is a discharge of weapons at the same time. Figuratively, this word connotes a simultaneous unleashing of verbal wrath. Currently, a salvo of accusations has been fired at Vladimir Putin for supporting the rebel group that putatively shot down the Malaysian flight. But you don’t need an international incident to get the verbal salvos—as a daily session in Congress clearly shows.


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