shrewd, sagacious, perspicacious, astute mean acute in perception and sound in judgment. shrewd stresses practical, hardheaded cleverness and judgment.
a shrewd judge of character sagacious suggests wisdom, penetration, and farsightedness.
sagacious investors got in on the ground floorperspicacious implies unusual power to see through and understand what is puzzling or hidden.
a perspicacious counselor saw through the child's facade astute suggests shrewdness, perspicacity, and diplomatic skill.
an astute player of party politics
The Surprising Root of Sagacious
You might expect the root of sagacious to be sage, which means "wise" or "wise man," but that wouldn't be a wise assumption. Despite their similarities, the two words are not all that closely related. Sagacious traces back to sagire, a Latin verb meaning "to perceive keenly." It's also related to the Latin adjective sagus ("prophetic"), which is the ancestor of our verb seek. Etymologists believe that sage comes from a different Latin verb, sapere, which means "to taste," "to have good taste," or "to be wise."
Hidden Meaning of Sagacious
Sagacious entered the English language around the beginning of the 17th century and, for some decades, referred to perceptiveness of sight, taste, and especially, smell. One of the first authors to use the word, Edward Topsell, wrote in 1607 of bees searching for something with “a most sagacious smelling-sence.” Sagacious has largely lost the sense (no pun intended) of being keen in sensory perception, and now almost exclusively means "of keen judgment, discerning.” The upshot is that English has words for the state of possessing acute vision (such as far-sighted) and a fine sense of touch (such as sensitive), but lacks any adjectives describing an excellent sense of smell.
Examples of sagacious in a Sentence
… the winner is praised for his sagacious grasp of the hopes and anxieties of the public, the loser is excoriated for the many and obvious blunders that derailed his candidacy …— Hendrik Hertzberg, New Yorker, 18 Dec. 2000It has allowed him to pre-empt conservative political attacks, to appear sagacious despite his inexperience …— Alan Tonelson, Atlantic, June 1993With commendably sagacious foresight, I sneaked spoils as well to the elders of key Judean cities whose good will I was cultivating for the future …— Joseph Heller, God Knows, 1984It has been suggested that we go to sleep at night because it is then too dark to do anything else; but owls, who are a venerably sagacious folk, do not sleep in the night-time.— James Stephens, The Crock of Gold, 1912
a sagacious critique of the current social climate in our nation
Recent Examples on the WebRead previous columns here. Leave it to the sagacious Linus Van Pelt to strip away the trappings of the Thanksgiving holiday tradition and find its essence.
Ben Zimmer, WSJ, 25 Nov. 2021 Nevertheless, this is the time of year when food writers — ordinarily a wise and sagacious bunch — write about cocktails that are frightening or scary or spooky.
Tribune News Service, cleveland, 25 Oct. 2021 Clodagh’s fantasy is that Paola will be there for her, as before—still magnetic, still sagacious, still interested.
Willing Davidson, The New Yorker, 28 Sep. 2020 Other big losers: LVMH chief Bernard Arnault ($4.4 billion); Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ($5.6 billion); and the sagacious Warren Buffett ($5.3 billion).
David Meyer, Fortune, 10 Mar. 2020 The sagacious Lakers general manager happily traded Vlade Divac to Charlotte on that fateful draft night.
Bob Ryan, BostonGlobe.com, 29 Jan. 2020 The running back unit ascends with the additions of sagacious veteran Frank Gore and multidimensional jitterbug Devin Singletary, a third-round pick from Florida Atlantic.
Andy Benoit, SI.com, 7 Aug. 2019 That kind of puckish, mildly subversive humor runs throughout the book, which is a calm and sagacious volume rendered somewhat somber by the news of his passing.
Steve Donoghue, The Christian Science Monitor, 17 July 2019 The young team is guided by a trio of sagacious celestial beings called the Misses, who challenge Meg to tap into her innate powers.
Alisha Acquaye, GQ, 2 May 2018
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sagacious.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.