The Meaning of Salient: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of salient? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word salient, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word salient mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Vocabulary, the word salient (pronounced ˈseɪl yənt) is an adjective that refers to something that has a quality that thrusts itself into attention. Whatever is being described as salient stands out; for example, salient points of an argument stand out and grab the listener’s attention in a good way. A salient feature on a building could refer to architectural details that stand out. The word salient can also describe something that points outward at a salient angle, or something that is leaping as if propelled by a spring. Finally, and rarely, the term salient can be used as a noun when referring to the military, and it’s the part of the line of battle that is closest to the enemy forces. Many different things can be considered salient, like salient facts of a case or salient traits of a person.

Many different languages also use words that mean salient. You may notice that some of these look and sound similar to the word salient. These cognates are formed when words have a similar origin or root. This list of translations for the word salient is provided by Word Sense. 

  • French: pertinent‎, saillant
  • Russian: замечательный‎, примечательный‎, достойный внимания‎
  • Danish: bemærkelsesværdig‎
  • Maori: tāpua‎
  • Dutch: betekenisvol‎
  • Persian: برجسته‎ (barjaste)
  • Italian: saliente‎, rilevante‎, degno di nota‎, pertinente‎
  • Swedish: framträdande‎, iögonfallande‎
  • Greek: προεξέχων‎

What is the origin of the word salient?

According to Etymonline, the word salient has been used as an adjective since the 1560s to mean leaping. This word comes from the Latin salient em which is the nominative saliens, and the present participle of the Latin salīre, which is a verb that means to leap. The verb salire is from a Proto-Indo-European root of an unknown origin, but is perhaps the same root of the Sanskrit sisarsi and sisrate meaning to flow. This could also be the root of the Greek hallesthai meaning to leap and the Middle Irish saltraim meaning trample, along with the Middle Welsh sathar meaning trampling. This was initially used as an adjective in Middle English to mean leaping or skipping. It began to be used in military usage to mean pointing outward in the 1680s and meant prominent or striking by 1840. This comes from the term salient point, used in the 1670s to refer to the heart of an embryo which seems to leap. This is translated from the Latin punctum saliens, which goes back to Aristotle’s writings and refers to a starting point. Related words include salience, saliency, 

How can the word salient be used in a sentence?

The word salient can be used in many different circumstances to describe things that have qualities that stand out. In this first example, the word salient will describe attributes of a person. Here, Tara feels invisible at school. Her sister Raina comforts her.

Tara: Everyone is special but me. I’m just average, I have no good qualities at all. I’m so boring, no wonder everyone ignores me.

Raina: Tara, you couldn’t be more wrong. You have so many salient qualities. You’re an excellent artist.

Tara: I’m not the best. Ricky is.

Raina: You’re good at math.

Tara: I’m in a B class, so I can’t be that good at math even if I do have an A.

Raina:Well, you’re the best listener I know. No one has you beat when it comes to being kind and caring. And that’s the best quality out of all of them.

Here, Raina uses the word salient to describe Tara’s different qualities. In this next example, Raina’s class is having a debate. Raina has just finished her presentation.

Teacher: Raina, I think you made many salient points about why uniforms should be kept around at this school. Excellent work. Todd, you state that we shouldn’t have uniforms because “they’re boring.” Care to elaborate?

Todd: Nah, I think I made my point. 

Here, Raina’s teacher compliments her on having arguments that stand out in the class debate, unlike her classmate Todd.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word salient?

There are many different words that can be used in place of the word salient, which are known as synonyms. Synonyms are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are very useful to know if you are looking to expand your vocabulary or if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the word salient is provided by Thesaurus.

  • obvious
  • significant
  • remarkable
  • important
  • protruding
  • conspicuous
  • prominent
  • intrusive
  • obtrusive
  • noticeable
  • notable
  • impressive
  • pronounced
  • projecting
  • pertinent
  • famous
  • moving
  • outstanding
  • arresting
  • weighty
  • marked
  • jutting
  • arrestive
  • signal
  • striking

There are also numerous different words that are the opposite of the word salient, which are called antonyms. Antonyms are also very useful to know if you are trying to expand your vocabulary and knowledge of the English language. This list of antonyms for the word salient is also provided by Thesaurus

  • shoestring
  • paltry
  • of no account
  • frothy
  • picayune
  • minor
  • little
  • zilch
  • nonessential
  • inconsequential
  • irrelevant
  • zip
  • low-ranking
  • minute
  • null
  • insignificant
  • casual
  • inconsiderable
  • trivial
  • useless
  • petty
  • of no consequence
  • negligible
  • immaterial
  • trifling
  • frivolous
  • slight
  • second-rate
  • nothing
  • unnecessary
  • beside the point
  • nugatory
  • worthless
  • indifferent
  • zero
  • meaningless
  • unimportant

Overall, the word salient is an adjective that refers to qualities of a thing or person that stand out and garner attention. These can be either positive or negative. The word salient is of Latin origin.