acu·​men | \ ˈa-kyü-mən How to pronounce acumen (audio) , ə-ˈkyü-mən How to pronounce acumen (audio) \

Definition of acumen

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

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Choose the Right Synonym for 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

How did acumen evolve?

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.

Examples of acumen in a Sentence

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 … 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 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 Her political acumen won her the election. a lack of business acumen
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Recent Examples on the Web That might be a good time to take a vacation or focus on hobbies, since your business acumen is at a low point. oregonlive, "Horoscope for Feb. 2, 2020: Leo, passion pushes the on button; Libra, apply some sympathy," 2 Feb. 2020 Throughout his tenure in MLS, Pareja was noted as a manager who was capable of investing long-term in clubs, bringing an acumen for development from the youth side up to the senior levels. Julia Poe, Pro Soccer USA, "Orlando City names Óscar Pareja new head coach," 6 Dec. 2019 His marketing acumen has helped build his investment firm into a significant player in the world of money management, managing more than $112 billion of investors’ money, up from $33 billion a decade ago. Matthew Goldstein, New York Times, "Kenneth Fisher Ruled Investing. Then He Made a Sexist Joke.," 23 Oct. 2019 Wait until late May to perform some financial maneuvering when your business acumen is at a peak. Tribune Content Agency, oregonlive, "Horoscope for Nov. 2, 2019: Libra, focus on your immediate needs; Pisces, the sky is the limit," 2 Nov. 2019 Clifford also credits former NBA coach Tom Thibodeau for helping him develop an acumen for watching film. Roy Parry,, "Magic coach Steve Clifford offers behind-the-scenes look at film study he believes is key to success," 25 Sep. 2019 His football acumen was such that a player on a rival team would call him in the middle of the season to talk shop. Jon Wertheim,, "How the Influence of Al Davis Shaped the Modern NFL," 27 Aug. 2019 Proof of Kirchner’s acumen is her choice to run alongside Fernández, as Vice-President—a decision that has prompted skepticism but also relief among those who see her legacy as a disgrace to Peronism. Stephania Taladrid, The New Yorker, "Argentina Considers a Return to Peronism," 28 Aug. 2019 His strategic acumen was such that the old coach of this same player's team would call during the season to talk X's and O's. Jon Wertheim,, "How the Influence of Al Davis Shaped the Modern NFL," 27 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'acumen.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of acumen

circa 1579, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for acumen

borrowed from Latin acūmen "sharp point, stinger, acuteness of mind," from acū-, stem of acuere "to sharpen" + -men, resultative noun suffix — more at acute

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Time Traveler for acumen

Time Traveler

The first known use of acumen was circa 1579

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Last Updated

14 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Acumen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for acumen


How to pronounce acumen (audio) How to pronounce acumen (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of acumen

: the ability to think clearly and make good decisions

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Britannica English: Translation of acumen for Arabic Speakers

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