acumen

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

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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
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Recent Examples on the Web

His tactical acumen, however, has been legitimately lambasted time and again. SI.com, "Why Didier Deschamps Is Still a Problem Regardless of Leading France to the World Cup Final," 12 July 2018 Perhaps a better test of President Trump’s political acumen falls in a battleground state like Nevada. Chad Pergram, Fox News, "Reporter's Notebook: What Mark Sanford's loss tells us about Trump's political muscle in the midterm elections," 13 June 2018 Reyes, who is batting cleanup Monday against the Cardinals, has shown an impressive acumen for making adjustments and absorbing input from coaches and veterans. Kevin Acee, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Padres notes: What Franmil Reyes must do; closing in on no-no?; Hedges rehab," 11 June 2018 Pusha-T Is Ready to Place Himself Among Rap’s Greats As if his lyrical acumen isn’t evidence enough, Pusha-T shows respect for rap greats throughout on DAYTONA. William E. Ketchum Iii, Billboard, "5 Things We Learned After Our First Listen to Pusha T's 'Daytona' Album," 25 May 2018 And, frankly, his acumen is exactly what the Bucks need. Tim Bontemps, chicagotribune.com, "The Bucks need a new coach — they can't afford to pass on Mike Budenholzer," 29 Apr. 2018 Soon, Colin Cook's vision and restaurant background, Tony Troppe's development acumen and Joe Karpinski's brewing know-how will converge to open one of Akron's newest breweries. Marc Bona, cleveland.com, "Akron's Lock 15 Brewing Co. aims to open in June in historical, natural setting," 25 Apr. 2018 Deon Cain could give Houston a player in the mold of Davante Adams, whose route acumen matches well with Deshaun Watson's strengths. Stephanie Stradley, Houston Chronicle, "Stephanie Stradley’s Q&A on the Texans and the 2018 NFL draft," 11 Apr. 2018 In his meetings with Republican activists, Mr. Wilson has pitched himself as a problem-solver who could use his business acumen to help with an ailing economy upstate and aging infrastructure downstate. Mike Vilensky, WSJ, "N.Y. GOP Aims to Avoid Primary in Governor’s Race," 30 Aug. 2017

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

The first known use of acumen was circa 1579

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More Definitions for acumen

acumen

noun

English Language Learners Definition of acumen

: the ability to think clearly and make good decisions

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More from Merriam-Webster on acumen

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Spanish Central: Translation of acumen

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Britannica English: Translation of acumen for Arabic Speakers

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