Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
February 23rd, 2015
Episode 116 of 900 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 23, 2015 is: acumen \uh-KYOO-mun\ noun : keenness and depth of perception, discernment, or discrimination especially in practical matters Examples: Detective Morton possesses a superior acumen that enables him to solve the most bizarre and puzzling of mysteries. "[Suzanne] Isken says the pieces on display fall in the category of fine art based on their technical acumen and their ability to push aesthetic boundaries and upend accepted themes of the traditional medium." Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2015 Did you know? A keen mind and a sharp wit can pierce the soul as easily as a needle passes through cloth. Remember the analogy between a jabbing needle and piercing perception, and you will readily recall the history of acumen. Our English word retains the spelling and figurative meaning of its direct Latin ancestor, a term that literally meant "point." Latin acumen traces to the verb acuere, which means "to sharpen" and derives from acus, the Latin word for "needle." In its first known English uses in the 1500s, acumen referred specifically to a sharpness of wit. In modern English, it conveys the sense that someone is perceptive enough to grasp a situation quickly and clever enough to use it.