“Heat and animosity, contest and conflict, may sharpen the wits, although they rarely do; they never strengthen the understanding, clear the perspicacity, guide the judgment, or improve the heart” (Walter Savage Landor).
I EXPECT SOME WILL SHAKE THEIR HEADS (OR MAYBE EVEN WINCE) IN DISMAY AT THE SIGHT OF “PERSPICACITY” IN A BOOK LIKE THIS. But then again, those who know me will probably not be surprised at all. In any case, take a moment today to consider this good word. The idea behind it is, in fact, an enthusiastic idea.
Actually, there are two words we need to look at. The first is “perspicacity,” which means the ability to understand things clearly. The second is “perspicuity,” which means expressing ourselves clearly. Both words come from a Latin root meaning “to look through,” so they convey the idea of clarity, lucidness, and transparency.
Understanding. Everybody has had the experience of seeing an idea but not seeing it clearly. After learning a new concept, most of us find it takes a while before the point comes into sharp focus in our minds. But that sharp focus or clarity is worth working for. We need to keep studying important ideas until we understand them well. And not only that, but we need to work on increasing our powers of understanding — our perspicacity — so that it takes less time to gain a clear focus than it did when our minds weren’t as well trained.
Expression. It is possible to understand something clearly but not be able to communicate it clearly to another person. So we need to work on both our thinking and our communicating, until we can express important ideas in a clear manner. Strictly speaking, we don’t really understand a thing until we can explain it to someone else.
Perfect clarity is not achievable, of course, either in our thinking or our communicating. But improving in these areas is a worthy goal. I challenge you, therefore, to stretch yourself and think about both your “perspicacity” and your “perspicuity.” How clearly do you perceive things, and how clearly do you express them? Any progress you can make in either of these areas will be well worth whatever it costs you.
“Where we cannot invent, we may at least improve; we may give somewhat of novelty to that which was old, condensation to that which was diffuse, perspicuity to that which was obscure, and currency to that which was recondite” (Charles Caleb Colton).