Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Genius

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is genius. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

genius is a person who is exceptionally smart or talented. Genius also refers to great natural ability, or to a part of something that makes it unusually good or valuable.

// She’s a genius at riddles.

// The sheer genius of their theory was not immediately recognized.

// He’s widely admired for his comedic genius.

GENIUS in Context

“Jena at its peak might have boasted a higher concentration of genius than Renaissance Florence or ancient Athens.” — Adam Kirsch, The New Republic, 21 Oct. 2022

Did You Know?

Today, the word genius tends to carry cerebral connotations, rather than spiritual ones, but the word has its origin in ancient Roman religion, in which the genius (from Latin gignere, “to beget”) was originally a spirit who gave continuity to a family or clan over generations, and later the attendant spirit of a person or place. When genius first made its home in the English language in the 14th century it carried this “attendant spirit” meaning. Over time, the word developed the extended sense of “an identifying character or spirit,” a meaning inspired by the fact that part of a genius’s role was to protect a person’s moral character. Later genius came to refer to both remarkable talent or intelligence, and to someone who has such—genius developments, if you ask us.

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