You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: perspicacious

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:

PERSPICACIOUS

If you are perspicacious (pronounced pur-spi-KAY-shus), you are, Merriam-Webster tells us, “acute in perception and sound in judgment.” That is, you are able to look at a complicated or puzzling situation and comprehend the central elements and how they are related to one another. You get to the heart of the matter.

Etymology points the way. We have the word, and the noun perspicacity, from the Latin verb perspicere, literally “to look through” or “to see clearly.”

Example: Warren Richey, in “On Iran-contra, what did Roberts know?” in the Christian Science Monitor, 2005: “What is unusual is that between January and June 1986 the entire counsel's office departed. All seven lawyers - including presidential counsel Fred Fielding - resigned and left the White House. The departures mark an extraordinary exodus of legal experience even as the Iran-contra deception was in full operation. Peter Wallison, who succeeded Mr. Fielding as White House counsel in April 1986, says the departures were routine turnover within the office, nothing more. ‘They would have to be very, very perspicacious ... to have sensed something that was such a tightly held secret,’ he says.”

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