Last week I was writing something and I was searching for a word. I wanted to describe the weather as fickle, unpredictable, tempestuous. I wanted to conjure a sense of its being somewhat moody and I knew there was a particular word I was looking for but it simply wouldn’t come. I adopted my word searching posture, gesturing vaguely with both hands and looking up to the left, but nothing. Then suddenly the fog cleared and shining sardonically in the sun was the word perspicacious. It was not the word I was looking for.
This was not the first time that this had happened. That searching for one word I was presented with another which was interesting but at the same time somewhat mocking. Why was perspicacious mocking? Because it means acutely insightful and clear-sighted. Exactly the opposite of what I had been in my inelegant fumble for capricious.
Springing from the Latin perspicac-, perspicax, from perspicere, to look through, percipicacious is first seen in English literary writings around 1877. Originally the word was taken literally to mean someone who had keen vision (again the word mocks me and my myopic self!). Eventually it came to be used figuratively as someone who had keen perception.
Perspicacious. It is an interesting word. It makes me think of perceptive, precocious, perspicuity and perspicuous. All of these words refer to a certain acuity of vision, insight, a certain wisdom or capacity to accurately assess and judge a situation.
It also makes me think of supercalifragilisticexpialidocius, the wonderful word coined by the eccentric and undeniably perspicacious Mary Poppins. I wonder whether it is a coincidence that this word includes every letter of perspicacious? I think not.
Persipicacious is, like so many words on this blog, one which is difficult to use without sounding like a bit of a wanker. When you could just as easily use insightful, perceptive, sharp or onto it to describe a persipicacious person, why invoke this fancy pants word? To impress. That’s why.
So when should you whip this one out? Try a job interview. Or a management meeting. Or have you seen that episode of ‘How I met your mother’ when Ted goes to the fancy party in the fancy building and has a whale of a time regaling the literati with his marvellous wit? That’s when.
So at your next job interview when your prospective (soon to be future) employer asks you what your greatest strength is you can tell them: ‘my perspicacity’. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you fully understand the meaning of the word, there is no way your interviewer will ask you to define it. However they may ask you to elaborate and this is the perfect opportunity to explain that you work well in a team as you’re perceptive and sensitive and your clear-sighted approach ensures that you get the job done, producing quality to deadline.
How about when you’re called to your boss’s office to discuss the progress of a junior employee who is working seriously well and threatening your position? You can tell your boss that ‘yes, she is certainly perspicacious but I am concerned that her youth and inexperience are barriers to effective interpersonal communication and this shortcoming may affect our brand’. This kind of language is sure to dissuade your boss from promoting your junior above you.
Or what about the final example, the party filled with the educated bourgeoisie? Feel free to throw it down any time: ‘oh I see you organised several cases of champagne, how very perspicacious of you!’ Or ‘do allow me to share with you my reflections on the characteristics of mustard, chilli and wasabi sauce. I am sure you will find I am most perspicacious’. If you ever find yourself out of your depth or asked to offer an opinion on a subject you’ve never heard of, simply refer back to the previous speaker and say ‘well personally I felt that Penelope’s perspective was particularly persipicacious’. If you can get through all those p’s without stumbling you will command the respect of everyone in the room.
Which, when it comes down to it, is what it’s all about, right? ;P
But it sure is fun.
In peace and wordliness 🙂