Word: acumen

Pronunciation: ə-KYOO-mən; A-kyə-mən

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, typically in a particular domain

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


“Acumen” is one of those words that I don’t see or hear very often because it only seems to come up in very specific contexts. For instance, the first example that comes to my mind is always “business acumen”, referring to the sharp wit it takes to succeed in the business world. I have to admit, though, that “acumen” is something I myself don’t possess, since I tend to take my sweet time thinking things through before coming to a conclusion…

“Acumen” is a person’s capacity for making quick decisions and good judgments, usually in a specific domain. The word itself is originally Latin and means “sharpness” or “point”. This noun comes from the verb acuere “sharpen”, which is also the root of the word “acute” (as in “having or showing a perceptive understanding or insight”).

When it comes to general uses of the word, I can’t be entirely certain how to apply it, as I don’t believe I’ve heard it used outside of references to particular areas of expertise before. Every time I’ve encountered the word “acumen”, it’s always been preceded by an adjective, suggesting that it works best when describing a specific type of shrewdness. Therefore, I would use it to define the capacity of characters who excel in their respective fields, and simply use synonyms like “sharp-wittedness” and “astuteness” for general contexts. Some have “business acumen”, some have “political acumen”, and some have “scientific acumen”. Now I have to wonder: is there such a thing as “writing acumen”?

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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