This year for the A to Z Challenge, I'm investigating emotions and reactions and their use to in writing. So, I'll be talking about my first thoughts as a writer when I think about the words we use to describe emotions and my experience of their use in literature.
perspicacity: the quality of having a ready insight into things; shrewdness.
I love the word perspicacity, pretty much because I have so much trouble saying it - it's a tongue twister of a word - pur - spi - cass - it - ee. I first came across this word in a children's movie, but for the life of me, I can't remember which one! I just remember being really impressed with the word for its own sake - it was a while before I learnt what it meant. :)
Thanks to that early association with a child, I've always felt perspicacity is the lighter side of shrewdness. If a character is perspicacious then they have a good handle on what is going on, but (and this is just for me when I'm using the word) not in a bad way. I want perspicacity to be a good word - which is illogical, because it comes with no such connotations, but that's just me!
Lizzie Bennet (yes I'm returning to Austen), is a woman of great perspicacity. She is intelligent, she views the world with a long-suffering knowledge that not all of her family have such insights, but she uses her knowledge for positive things in the main - she is not spiteful with her observations. Jane, on the other hand, is far too good and sweet to be shrewd.
Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, too, is perspicacious. She observes, she catalogues, she analyses, she slots into her 'small village' counterparts, and using nothing more than her experience, she solves the crime. Her wit is as sharp as any professional detective, but she has an added bonus of being able to see outside that policeman's world. She isn't afraid to make her comparisons, to understand the world through the window of her quiet little village, St Mary Meade. Can you tell, I like Miss Marple? :)
Like any other response, perspicacity is even more interesting when it can be fooled. Elementary played a blinder with the plot around Irene Adler and Moriarty, defeating even Holmes' insightfulness. No, I'm not going to say what the plot involved, but I suggest you go watch this excellent show and find out for yourself, if you don't know.
I do like shrewdness in characters, although, not for its own sake, then it becomes disdain when others do not share those insights. No, I like my own take on perspicacity, that it's shrewdness without the superiority complex.
QUESTION: Do you prefer shrewdness in your heroes or your villains - when is it most interesting?
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