SAT Vocabulary: Words of Praise and Criticism
The words in this article express praise and criticism. These are words you’re likely to use when you try to impress (or thoroughly depress) your date’s parents or ace the biggest test of your life.
acclaim (a claim): approval, praise (also as a verb meaning, to approve, to praise).
Paul received national acclaim for his science fair experiment about conditions on the moon.
Paul’s parents chose to acclaim his work in front of the neighbors, making sure everyone knew what an excellent job their son had done on his project.
Bonus joke: Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon? Great food, but no atmosphere.
The prefix ac– means to or forward. Think of yourself going forward to “claim your fame” and receive the praise you deserve.
Note that acclaim can be a noun or a verb. You acclaim the performance of someone who’s doing a good job. You may also have heard the phrase, “the critically acclaimed film.” This expression means that the film critics liked the picture (even though the public may have thought it stank).
accolade (rhymes with, back coal aid): a sign of approval.
During the dog obedience trials, Tessie and Jake were so nervous that they never knew whether they had performed correctly until they heard the cheers and accolades of the crowd.
As noted in the preceding vocab word, the prefix ac– means to or forward. Picture yourself going forward, progressing, and receiving a cola (a-cola-lade) as a reward for your good performance.
castigate (rhymes with, pass the gate): punish by giving public criticism.
When the building superintendent began speaking on the PA system, I had a premonition he was going to castigate me for putting the skunk in the air conditioning system.
Don’t confuse castigate, meaning to punish, with castrate, meaning to neuter; to cut off the genitalia. You castrate a bull, not a prankster who has polluted the AC system (talk about overdoing the punishment!).
censure (rhymes with, then sure): strong disapproval; a formal expression of disapproval.
When the congressman was suspected of accepting bribes, he was aware of the censure of his fellow politicians.
Be sure not to confuse censure with censor. To censor is to remove the offensive portions, like censoring a book to get rid of the dirty parts. Just remember that a censor eliminates the parts (think of the “o” in censor standing for “out”) because of your censure of their content. (You are upset by the dirty parts and cut them out.)
denounce (rhymes with, the ounce): condemn strongly.
The students denounced the increase in parking fees, saying that charging over a hundred dollars a year to park on campus was ridiculous.
Don’t confuse announce with denounce. When you announce something, you talk about it; introduce it. The prefix de– means down. When you denounce, you put something down, talk down about it, and criticize it.
disparage (rhymes with, this carriage): show disrespect for.
The ten-year-old boy was near tears because the teacher disparaged the art project on which he had spent so much time.
The prefix dis– means not. You do not show any respect for something when you disparage it.
Think of the song, “Home on the Range.” There’s a line in it that goes, “Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word.” You could change that to “Where seldom is heard, a disparaging word” to help you remember that disparage is negative.
encomium (in comb he um): a formal expression of praise.
At the end-of-the-year banquet, the Chess Club honored Larry, who had not lost a game the entire year, with a long scroll full of encomium.
Bonus trivia: According to some mathematicians, the number of possible moves in a chess game is 10 followed by 43 zeros! No wonder computers have such difficulty anticipating all possibilities.
eulogy (rhymes with, you low gee): high praise.
At the funeral, Blair delivered a eulogy for his grandmother, talking about all the good she had done for her family and friends.
The prefix eu– means good, and the root log means word. When you have a good word for someone — when you praise her — you give a eulogy.
extol (rhymes with, necks pole): to praise highly.
Television commercials extol the virtues of the latest style of overpriced blue jeans.
fawning (rhymes with, yawning): flattering, showing servile deference.
The psychiatrist quickly deduced that his new patient had an obsessive desire to be liked, because she was fawning all over everyone, even people she didn’t like.
When you want to be popular sooooo badly that you will kiss up to the “in” crowd at school, you are fawning.
Bonus joke: What did the psychiatrist say when the patient yelled into his office, “Doctor! Help, help! I’m shrinking!” Answer: “I’m busy now. You’ll just have to be a little patient.”
kudos (rhymes with, you doze): praise, glory, fame.
Tim received kudos for his excellent detective work at the firehouse, discovering who put the captain’s jockey shorts up the flagpole.
The manufacturer of the candy bar called Kudos hopes you think the taste of the candy is worth praising.
laud (rhymes with, clawed): to praise.
The coach lauded me for making the difficult three-point shot just as the buzzer sounded, winning the game for our team and sending us to the State finals.
Notice how similar the word laud is to the word applaud? When you laud someone’s performance, you are applauding him for doing so well.
You may see different forms of this word, including laudable, meaning worthy of praise (joining the Peace Corps is a laudable thing to do) and laudatory, meaning expressing praise (my boss’s laudatory comments on the good job I did on the project made me feel great all day long).
malign (rhymes with, the sign): speak evil of.
Even though the newspaper editorials are always criticizing the ambassador to Spain, I think he’s doing a good job and refuse to malign him.
Mal means bad. If you speak Spanish, you know the expression, muy malo, meaning very bad. To malign is to say something bad.
You may have heard about a malignant tumor. That’s a cancerous tumor, one that is considered bad. (The opposite is a benign tumor, one that isn’t cancerous or harmful. Ben is a root meaning good.)
rebuke (rhymes with, see duke): scold.
Rich rebuked me when I spent my money on candy bars rather than books, saying I needed to feed my mind more than my body.
My friend Rich really did say this to me, adding that I was so mentally challenged that a mind reader would charge me half price!
sycophant (sick oh fant): a flatterer.
The movie star had difficulty knowing whom to trust, because most of the people around him were groupies and sycophants who told him how wonderful he was.
A sycophant is a person who flatters way, way too much, overdoing the praise. You would probably call this type of person a kiss-up.
You may know a sycophant, someone who is so gushing she “makes you sick.” Think of a sycophant as a sick-o-phant because you’re sick of all her insincere praise.
upbraid (up braid): criticize or rebuke sharply.
The morning I flunked my driver’s test, I was afraid to tell my mother because I knew she would immediately upbraid me for not having studied harder.
Don’t define upbraiding as simply “braiding up.” When you braid something, you put it together. Think of upbraid as un-braiding or ripping apart; what your mom would do if you goofed off, didn’t study, and flunked your test.
vilify (rhymes with, will he try): use abusive language about.
I heard my mother vilify me and my driving abilities to my father when he came home that night.
–Ify is a suffix meaning “to make.” You probably know that a villain is a bad guy, someone vile (the villains in movies always wear black). You can think of vilify as to make into a villain, a bad guy.
Bonus: What do you suppose you do when you revile someone? You insult, criticize and abuse him. In other words, you treat him as if he’s vile or like a villain.
vituperate (rhymes with, my group her eight): to find fault with, to vilify, revile, abuse.
My personal trainer vituperated me for not exercising more, telling me, “Your figure is so bad, it looks as if the contents settled during shipment!”