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 But Vogel still believes his team can be a force on defense with Gasol and Harrell using their particular defensive acumen. Broderick Turner Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "Marc Gasol tries to shrug off a tough first game with Lakers," 23 Dec. 2020 Serafini owns a financial planning business and earned bipartisan respect during his political career for his budget acumen. Pamela Wood,, "Maryland Gov. Hogan’s ex-chief of staff, Roy McGrath, to testify in investigation," 16 Dec. 2020 Lotta went on to star in a succession of popular stage musicals and, thanks to her mother’s business acumen, became the wealthiest theatrical performer in the country. Gary Kamiya,, "Who is the Lotta of Lotta’s Fountain? She was once one of America’s biggest stars," 11 Dec. 2020 His father taught him about the business, and those lessons and his acumen were put to the test in 1971. Eric Heisig, cleveland, "Tom Sullivan, longtime leader of RPM International and Cleveland philanthropist, dies at 83," 5 Dec. 2020 Dave Slover, owner of Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe, said his company was in the right space at the right time which was a function of luck as much as business acumen. oregonlive, "Fitness, outdoor companies thrive in the pandemic, but will their sudden success endure?," 10 Nov. 2020 Campbell, a 38-year-old from Massachusetts who's running as a Republican write-in candidate for a seat in Congress, has been a staunch Trump supporter from the beginning, citing his patriotism and business acumen. Erin Mansfield, USA TODAY, "Trump’s campaign made stops nationwide. Coronavirus cases surged in his wake in at least five places.," 23 Oct. 2020 Voters lining up at rallies in 2015 and 2016, for example, frequently cited business acumen as part of his appeal as a candidate. Rob Crilly, Washington Examiner, "From fake news to old news, White House employs familiar tactic over Trump's taxes," 1 Oct. 2020 McAnally was the recipient of Billboard’s Country Power Players Trailblazer Award in August, bestowed upon him not only for his songwriting success, but also for his adventurous creativity and business acumen. Melinda Newman, Billboard, "Shane McAnally on Finding Inspiration, Managing Zoom Writing Sessions & His Best Publishing Deal Advice," 1 Sep. 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

30 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Acumen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.

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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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