• acumen •
æ-kyê-mên, ê-kyu-mên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: Mental keenness, intelligent insight, perceptiveness.
Notes: We have not decided how we want to pronounce today's Good Word, so we have our choice of the two different accent placements in Pronunciation and the sound file. This word has no immediate family, but is related to acute, acuity, acupuncture, and other words referring to physical and figurative sharpness, such as acutance "photographic sharpness" and acuminate "to sharpen".
In Play: Acumen is the ability to notice and interpret small things that are important: "We are lucky that Creighton Shippet had the acumen to suspect that the ticking package he found in the mailroom might be a bomb." It is therefore an intelligence of perception rather than of contemplation: "If drinking hadn't dulled the acumen of Hardy Partier, he would have noticed the roadblock on the way home and would have stopped in time." (Hardy wasn't injured though his car was banged up a bit.)
Word History: Today's Good Word is Latin acumen "a point, keenness" unadulterated. The Latin noun comes from acuere "to sharpen", a verb derived from acus "needle", almost identical to Greek akis "needle". We find the Latin and Greek roots in many words referring to literal and figurative sharpness, such as those listed in the Notes above. Greek akros "topmost" originally referred to pointed mountain tops but simply meant "high" when it went into the making of acrobat, originally meaning a "high walker". We would expect the [k] to become [h] or [gh] in Germanic languages like English, so we aren't surprised to learn that it turns up as eh-her "spike" in Old English, a word that went on to become ear (of grain). (Today we gracefully bow to the acumen of Barbara Kelly for spotting this very Good Word and suggesting it to us.)
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