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

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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 means "sharp point." Latin acūmen traces to the verb acuere, which means "to sharpen" and is related to acus, the Latin word for "needle." In its earliest English uses, 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 apply that ability.

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

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
Recent Examples on the Web The guys up at Auburn rave about his intelligence, his football acumen and his work ethic. Creg Stephenson | Cstephenson@al.com, al, 20 Jan. 2023 But Lord knows, there’s a mountain of acumen and perspicacity or, in plain terms, good horse sense stored in those minds and souls. Gordon Monson, The Salt Lake Tribune, 8 Jan. 2023 See all Example Sentences for acumen 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'acumen.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

circa 1579, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of acumen was circa 1579


Dictionary Entries Near acumen

Cite this Entry

“Acumen.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/acumen. Accessed 21 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


: keenness of mind : shrewdness

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