Word of the Day: DISCERNMENT


noun \di-ˈsərn-mənt, –ˈzərn-\

: the ability to see and understand people, things, or stituations clearly and intelligently

Full Definition of DISCERNMENT

1 :  the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure :  skill in discerning
2 :  an act of perceiving or discerning something


  1. His lack of discernment led to his disastrous choice of business partners.
  2. <the discernment to know when someone is a true friend>
  3. I wasn’t sanguine about my powers of discernment, as I’ve failed similar exercises in the Central Park Ramble, where I practice bird-watching for dummies and am scarcely able to distinguish a rook from a duck. —Judith Thurman, New Yorker, 1 Dec., 2003
  4. Varying widely in scope and theme, the 10 essays about the Bill of Rights in this collection often shine with insight and sparkling turns of phrase; some, however, betray lack of discernment. —Jonathan Kellerman et al., Publishers Weekly, 17 Apr. 2000
  5. If one searched the archives to find an example of Spanish colonial policy at its worst, one would surely select Don Carlos Benites Franquis de Lugo, a vain, arrogant, opinionated fop who never displayed a shred of either courage or discernment but who did distinguish himself as one of the most inept and vengeful Spaniards ever to function overseas. —James A. Michener, Texas, 1985

First Known Use of DISCERNMENT


Synonym Discussion of DISCERNMENT

discernment, discrimination, perception, penetration, insight, acumen mean a power to see what is not evident to the average mind. discernment stresses accuracy (as in reading character or motives or appreciating art) <the discernment to know true friends>. discrimination stresses the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent <the discrimination that develops through listening to a lot of great music>. perception implies quick and often sympathetic discernment (as of shades of feeling) <a novelist of keen perception into human motives>. penetration implies a searching mind that goes beyond what is obvious or superficial <lacks the penetration to see the scorn beneath their friendly smiles>. insight suggests depth of discernment coupled with understanding sympathy <a documentary providing insight into the plight of the homeless>. acumen implies characteristic penetration combined with keen practical judgment <a director of reliable box-office acumen>.



One thought on “Word of the Day: DISCERNMENT

  1. One of my favorite words, but Christianity sort of hijacked it (spiritual “discernment”). I suggest that many very smart people have little discernment, for if they did, they could more easily understand the nature of what is causing the problems without their brainwashed knee-jerk reactions.

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