acumen

Look at these little level letters, each one with an opening facing one way or another – left, right, up, down and down, right, down. Ready to receive opportunities as they come, perhaps, whatever is a-comin’ in. Ironically, the letters are without points, unless you accept the ends of the lines – the tines on the m, n and u and the open tips on the c, a and e. No v or w here, though the shape of the u in the original Latin was v. This in spite of the meaning of the Latin: “sharp thing,” from acuere, “sharpen.” Now in English it’s not the acumen that’s the sharp thing but the person who possesses it. The word may sound like some Japanese borrowing (like salaryman, or rather sarariman) to refer to men who are accurate – or who drive Acuras. Or, since it’s a flexible, pragmatic word and allows stress on either the first or the second syllable, it could sound like a Syrian spice plant. But a person with acumen, though he or she may indeed be accurate and spicy, is one whose mind is a sharp instrument. And these days the word’s most constant companion by a long chalk is business (other occasional pals are intellectual – redundant, that – financial and political). Perhaps this is because the word itself reveals its true sharpness when it, like a strong business, is fully capitalized: ACUMEN. (Write it in Latin style, pre-half-uncial, and you get even sharper vision: ACVMEN. All it needs is a K for the C and it’s like a yard of broken glass.)

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