Sometimes it is GREek: Panacea


This symbol, which is of a staff entwined with snakes, is known as the Rod of Asclepius; it has been associated with the art of healing and medicine since the time of the Greeks.

“It’s not GREek!” loves to discuss new words that are likely to appear on the GRE.  We aim not only to give you a new word to memorize, but also to provide you with some background and etymological history to help you remember it.  At the end of the post, we will also give you a sentence with a few other new words to add to your flash cards.  By following this weekly series, you should be more prepared than ever to tackle the sentence completion, sentence equivalencies, and reading comprehension questions on test day.

This Week’s Word: Panacea

A panacea is a cure-all; medicinally, it is a remedy for any and every illness, evil, or disease. Panacea can also mean an answer or solution to a complex or convoluted problem, or more specifically a solution to any problem.

Panacea is often used in a negative or sarcastic context, as in, “The governor thinks this proposal will act as a panacea for the budget, even though it will slow growth with new taxes.” The reason for this is because, unfortunately, there is no such thing as a panacea.

Panacea finds its etymological roots in the Greek pan-, meaning ‘all,’ + akḗs, or ‘a cure.’ As a prefix, pan- is especially important to remember as meaning ‘all’; you will almost certainly see other words that employ it on test day, like pandemic, pantheism, or even Pangaea. Though used today in a largely negative sense, as an illusory, erroneous, or deceptive solution, in ancient Greece, Panacea was revered as a goddess of healing.

According to Greek mythology, Panacea, one of four daughters of Asclepius (the god of the medical art), possessed a poultice or potion which she used to heal the sick; this poultice was an effective cure against all maladies. This, of course, brought about the idea of a panacea in medicine, a single cure for any illness.

Sample Sentence:

Pitying pulchritudinous Pat’s pathologically pink pimples, Peter purloined putrid purple poultices, possibly perceiving potentially prettifying panaceas.

Miss the last “Sometimes it is Greek?” Check it out here! Want more GRE vocabulary? Click here for the free Test Masters GRE vocabulary list with over 2,000 words!



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