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 Your business acumen is enhanced in December, so get your financial ducks in a row while the timing is right. Magi Helena, oregonlive, "Horoscope for August 5, 2020: Gemini, entertain yourself on the cheap; Virgo, be nice at work," 5 Aug. 2020 In elevating posts that played to no apparent political angle, T_D’s mods again showed tactical acumen. Robert Peck, Wired, "The Hate-Fueled Rise of r/The_Donald—and Its Epic Takedown," 3 Aug. 2020 Those who occupy positions of power, despite their early acumen at a younger age, now seem to have completely lost their ability to understand others around them. Howard Yu, Quartz at Work, "Why bosses lose empathy as they advance," 27 July 2020 Even someone like Buffett, nearly knighted for his investment acumen, may need investor behavior reminders. Steve Booren, The Denver Post, "Improving Investor Behavior: Blind spots and confirmation bias," 19 July 2020 Not to mention all that power underfoot, and the surprising cornering acumen. Rich Ceppos, Car and Driver, "Tested: 2020 Bentley Flying Spur Coddles Passengers, Rewards Drivers," 7 July 2020 Shooting both lead roles with Rogen required technical acumen and split-screen technology made painstakingly difficult by Rogen's insistence on spending months growing his own beard. Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY, "First look: Seth Rogen stars as a brine-preserved time traveler in HBO Max's 'An American Pickle'," 1 July 2020 As President Trump's campaign sharpens its attacks on Joe Biden's age and mental acumen, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee was asked whether he's submitted himself to cognitive testing. Naomi Lim, Washington Examiner, "Biden asked whether he's undergone testing for 'cognitive decline'," 30 June 2020 Other factors—like age, intelligence, and natural gifts—all played big roles in setting apart the better from the best. Genes in particular shape physical and intellectual acumen. Popular Science, "Ten-thousand hours of practice isn’t enough to make you a star," 27 June 2020

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

8 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Acumen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 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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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for acumen

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with acumen

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Britannica English: Translation of acumen for Arabic Speakers

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