Word of The Month: Perspicacious

David Zapatka

Perspicacious – per·spi·ca·cious, /pərspəˈkāSHəs/

Adjective – 1. Having a ready insight into and understanding of things. 2. Of acute mental vision or discernment, keen. 3. Having or showing an ability to notice and understand things that are difficult or not obvious. Perspicaciously – adverb. Perspicaciousness, perspicacity – noun.

First known use 1548 from Latin perspicācitās (“discernment”), from Latin perspicax (“sharp-sighted”), from perspiciō (“look through”), from per- (“through”) + speciō (“look at”).

Perspicacious is similar in meaning to shrewd and astute, but a sharp mind will discern subtle differences among them. All three mean acute in perception and sound in judgment, but shrewd stresses practical, hardheaded cleverness, whereas perspicacious implies unusual power to see through and comprehend what is puzzling or hidden. (You can see this shade of meaning in the root of perspicacious – the Latin word perspicere, meaning “to look through” or “to see clearly.”) Astute suggests both shrewdness and perspicacity, as well as diplomatic skill.

An example of something perspicacious is a CEO who guessed that the company needed a new direction. Examples of perspicacious used in a sentence. She considers herself a perspicacious judge of character. The critic made some perspicacious observations about the film.

Historic uses of perspicacious.

“Perhaps we can worm some information out of the perspicacious Jennie.” The Deep Lake Mystery, Carolyn Wells. “All was precise and perspicacious, as is required in pleadings in the civil courts.” The Judicial Murder of Mary E. Suratt, David Miller DeWitt. “He knew him to be nervous, on the one hand, and perspicacious on the other.” Cosmopolis, Complete, Paul Bourget.

Recent uses of perspicacious.

“What secured the nomination were two things: the movie’s extraordinary quality and the perspicacious marketing department at Netflix’s documentary division.” Glenn Kenny, New York Times, “Netflix Casts a Wider Net for Original Documentaries,” March 9, 2017. “And then there’s the issue of scale: There are as many as 400 billion birds flitting around the planet; pondering their individual, perspicacious consciousnesses can be jaw-dropping, almost sublime.” Jon Mooallem, New York Times, “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” April 26, 2016.

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