Quantcast
Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary

acumen

play
noun acu·men \ə-ˈkyü-mən, ˈa-kyə-mən\

Simple Definition of acumen

  • : the ability to think clearly and make good decisions

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of acumen

  1. :  keenness and depth of perception, discernment, or discrimination especially in practical matters

Examples of acumen in a sentence

  1. And perhaps this is just part of Washington's transition into the new economy: the triumph of national brands over local loyalty, of business acumen over upper Northwest idealism. —Franklin Foer, New Republic, 7 Feb. 2000

  2. … the historical acumen, the steady shrewdness, and the uncommon common sense with which the old maestro watches the American procession of similar problems faced by dissimilar egos. —Alistair Cooke, New Yorker, 9 Feb. 1987

  3. Here was a man of extraordinary sensitivity, political acumen, spiritual power, and sexual wildness; a free spirit if ever there was one. —Alice Walker, Living by the Word, 1986

  4. Her political acumen won her the election.

  5. a lack of business acumen

  6. Philosophers may have written more than other writers about the aphorism, but it’s not the deepest thinkers who come up with the most vivid examples. For one thing philosophers have more on their minds than our foibles and follies. Those barbed formulations that uncover our pretensions and mock our self-regard are the product of native wit and social acumen. Aphorists—the good ones, at any rate—have irony in their souls. They may condemn the insincerity, stupidity, greed, and treachery of human beings, but instead of railing to high heaven they retaliate by rendering the perfectly phrased judgment. “Art is what you can get away with,” quipped Andy Warhol. For those with experience of the art world, it was as if the cheap mechanism behind a complicated illusion had suddenly been revealed. —“Too True” P. 86, Arthur Krystal, HARPER’S MAGAZINE Vol. 316 No. 1893, February 2008

  7. The man in charge doesn’t fit the classic stereotype of an athletic director: the put-out-to-pasture football coach long on good-ol’-boy charm but short on business acumen. Though Smith, 51, can be folksy and avuncular, he worked at IBM for three years and loves to flip open his laptop and explain the niceties of his org chart.” —“The Program” P. 58, L. Jon Wertheim, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Vol. 106 No. 10, March 5, 2007

  8. In the world of Christian publishing, Strang combines a sense of mission with sharp business acumen. Over the past 30 years, he has built his company, based in Lake Mary, Fla., into a $33 million business that churns out seven magazines and 100 books a year. —“The 25 Most Influential …” P. 42, David Van Biema, TIME Vol. 165 No. 6, February 7, 2005

  9. Sherry had spent the years of our marriage complaining about local cuisine, devising ideas of her own, trying to persuade me to find her a location and make an investment in her cooking skill and business acumen. —“Chapter 1” P. 12, GOOD FAITH, Jane Smiley, Alfred A. Knopf 813.54 S65 2003

  10. Members of Plymouth [Plymouth, England] 2020—a strategic partnership that includes the City Council, police, health services and community safety—quickly took the idea and agreed to let if flourish under their umbrella organization. But with so many potential users, including many who would have little technical expertise or data-deciphering acumen, officials had to decide how best to serve up such a bounty of detailed information. —“Plymouth Talk” P. 90, Kris Middaugh, GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY, December 2003

  11. This “extraordinarily learned woman” (Saddlemyer’s words) had significant friendships with other writers, including Pound, Lennox Robinson and Thomas MacGreevy. Her critical acumen salts her vigorous letters. —“Accidental Wife” P. 6, Edna Longley, THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT, November 15, 2002

  12. This fall the Bruins have ground out yardage by handing off to running back DeShaun Foster (149.5 yards per game). This week, though, expect coach Bob Toledo to open up the offense in an effort to get the ball to star wide receiver Brian Poli-Dixon. The Buckeyes need their fumble-prone quarterback, senior Steve Bellisari, to maintain his aerial acumen (15 completions in 24 attempts for 246 yards in a 28-14 win over Akron). —“SI View” P. 18, Chris Ballard, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Vol. 95 No. 12, September 24, 2001

  13. Criticism also can be useful, and two books of particular acumen and wide scope are W.H. Auden’s The Enchafed Flood (Random House, 1950) and Thomas Philbrick’s James Fenimore Cooper and the Development of American Sea Fiction (Harvard University Press, 1961). —“Collecting Nautical ...” P. 42, Richard Dey, NAUTICAL WORLD Vol. 1 No. 2, December 1997

  14. On a recent visit, a course on the tasting menu featured a vertical cylinder of fragile crisp potato filled with mashed potato laced with lobster chunks, bits of applewood smoked bacon and scallions, topped with osetra caviar, a lobster claw protruding jauntily. A fabulous tour de force, it blended creativity with impeccable culinary acumen. —“Always in Seasons” P. 74, Harvey Steiman, WINE SPECTATOR Vol. 22 No. 10, October 15, 1997



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.

Origin and Etymology of acumen

Latin acumin-, acumen, literally, point, from acuere


First Known Use: circa 1579

Synonym Discussion of acumen

discernment, discrimination, perception, penetration, insight, acumen mean a power to see what is not evident to the average mind. discernment stresses accuracy (as in reading character or motives or appreciating art) <the discernment to know true friends>. discrimination stresses the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent <the discrimination that develops through listening to a lot of great music>. perception implies quick and often sympathetic discernment (as of shades of feeling) <a novelist of keen perception into human motives>. penetration implies a searching mind that goes beyond what is obvious or superficial <lacks the penetration to see the scorn beneath their friendly smiles>. insight suggests depth of discernment coupled with understanding sympathy <a documentary providing insight into the plight of the homeless>. acumen implies characteristic penetration combined with keen practical judgment <a director of reliable box-office acumen>.


Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up acumen? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a talk on a religious or moral theme

Get Word of the Day daily email!

WORD GAMES

Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

lavender-fields-in-france

Which of these is a synonym of caesura?

torrent interruption rebellion megillah
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ