What's in a Word | All Blogs


Thinking on one’s feet

By Debra Dobbins

It’s been a busy day here at the Sentinel. I’ve been thinking both on my feet and at various seats as I fill in for a colleague and also try to get some NIE work done.

I have had time, however, to appreciate the quote above and to look into the word “ingenuity.” A quick definition of the word is “cleverness,” though I believe that “ingenuity” more precisely means being quickly clever, as in thinking on one’s feet.

In the 1590s, the word meant “honor, nobility,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which also notes the word can be traced to a Latin word meaning “condition of a free-born man.” The dictionary citation also explains that “[e]tymologically, this word belongs to ingenuous, but in 17c. ingenious and ingenuous so often were confused (even by Shakespeare) that ingenuity has acquired the meaning ‘capacity for invention or construction’ (first attested 1640s).”

Illustration of Roger Bacon
standing in observatory
special to the Sentinel
 

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