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Lucas Fink

Megalomnemonical SAT Vocab: Get a Sense of Humorism

According to canon, Hippocrates basically founded western medicine. That doesn’t mean the guy really had it all right, though… the truth is that medicine back then was totally nuts. We’re talking about treating sick people by draining their blood and burning them with hot irons.

But believe it or not, the theory of the time which led to all that—humorism—is still around, in a way. Well, you might see a little reference to it on your SAT, at least.


What was humorism?

The idea was pretty simple: there are four basic types of liquid in the body, and each one corresponds to a certain type of personality. It’s a neat picture, especially for any fantasy fans, since each of those four also matched up with one of the “elements” of fire, water, air, and earth.


The SAT likes to bring up the personality words associated with the “humors”—those four bodily fluids that doctors believed for hundreds and hundreds of years were affecting our moods.

Knowing the four of them isn’t too hard to do. Just remember to use mnemonics!



The humor: Black bile

The meaning: Sad or depressive. Melancholy people keep to themselves and don’t get too excited about anything.

Mnemonic: What do you do when feeling down? Ever sit around watching videos of cats to make yourself feel better? Hey, it that works. Or how about a picture of a melon collie?



The humor: Phlegm (duh)

The meaning: Like being melancholy, being phlegmatic is a passive, quiet trait. But rather than being depressive, phlegmatic people are just reserved and introspective. “Calm” is pretty close in meaning.

Mnemonic:  I only wish this wasn’t as gross as it is… “phlegm” isn’t exactly a pleasant word. But the best way to remember things is to associate them with shocking, strange things, so here goes nothing: Imagine a lake of phlegm. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing softly, and there’s not a soul in sight (I wonder why). It’s totally serene. If that lake were a person, they’d be phlegmatic.



The humor: Blood

The meaning: Since being sanguine meant you had too much blood, “sanguine” people supposedly had red cheeks. In terms of personality, it means relentlessly positive. The classic Santa Claus image is a pretty good example. What’s he always laughing about, anyway? Why’s he so happy?

Mnemonic: “sang” + “win” = “sanguine.” Our team was a sanguine group. We knew we were going to win the game, so we sang for the whole bus-ride there.



The humor: Yellow bile

The meaning: Angry and irritable. If melancholy and phlegmatic were the two opposing introverted personalities, then choleric is the other side of the extroverted coin, contrasting with sanguine. Choleric people are bitter and tend to fight a lot. Very un-Santa-like.

Mnemonic: If cholera were a person, how would it act? You think it’d be pleasant to be around? No, no, no. It’s a violent and deadly disease. It’d be choleric.


More SAT vocab

If you’re looking to practice some more SAT vocab, then take a look back at the first megalomnemonical quiz and all of the mnemonic-inspired word lists that went into it.


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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