One Word: Perspicacity


 I’m writing this post because of a single word. It’s not my word, I’m loathe to admit, because I love it. It’s a word used by Noah Berlatsky, writing for The Atlantic about why we all love certain things in our culture so much.

Why we all love the same certain things.

The word is perspicacity, and it’s defined by Webster as “the quality or state of being perspicacious; especially : acuteness of discernment.”

Naturally, my ears perk up when I hear any word related to discernment, but doubly so when it relates to the acuteness of discernment. That’s the lofty goal Plugged In has been aiming toward for a couple of decades now, so I wanted to know more about what Mr. Berlatsky wanted to say:

It’s been a long while since a cultural arbiter of any standing has been willing to just flat-out dismiss pop culture, or to insist that massive popularity is inevitably linked to massive banality. Instead we seem to have reached the point—perhaps especially with the snootier television dramas—where popularity seems to confer critical bona fides, while critical bona fides feed into popularity, which in turn confers critical bona fides, in an ever-ascending spiral of adulation and hype.

It’s natural that people talk about popular things, of course; that’s what it means to be popular. But the death of academic pop-culture snobbery and the scrabble for Internet readers seems to have created a particularly vociferous and endless chorus of group think. Orwell was wrong: It’s not Big Brother controlling your thoughts. It’s millions of pundits chanting Don Draper’s name, sacrificing slivers of everyone’s brain to the hungry god of their own much-touted perspicacity. Cultural studies and the academies’ enthusiastic embrace of pop was supposed to release us all from the grinding heel of elitist snobbery, but in the end it just seems like it means that we have to kowtow even more abjectly to the flavor of the moment than we ever did to the canon.

Did you catch that word? How could you miss it, right? What he’s driving at, it seems, is that he himself isn’t buying into the way the media dictates what we should and shouldn’t like when it comes to entertainment. HBO’s Game of Thrones, for instance. And AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad. That we all need to exercise a bit more of our own acute discernment instead of merely relying on the “experts” to do all our thinking for us.

And that goes for Plugged In, too, I’ll say right away. It’s a biblical principle rooted in God’s desire for His children to own their own salvation, their own relationship with Him, and not let the preacher or the church or the modern-day media own it for us. Or, worse, reject the message of the Good News altogether. We read in Acts 17:11, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

So I really do like the way Noah Berlatsky thinks about this issue. But not his personal entertainment choices, some of which he also reveals. And that’s precisely the point, isn’t it? That’s what perspicacity is all about. And when perspicacity is linked to Scripture and God’s so-much-higher-than-ours thinking, well, the English language can’t even handle the wealth of insight that can bring.

Who wrote this?

Steven Isaac has served as editor for Plugged In’s NRB- and EPA-award-winning website for more than a decade, orchestrating, managing, scheduling, shaping and tweaking at least 750 reviews and articles annually. He’s a husband and a father of a teenager.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Greg Johnson More than 1 year ago

--Every circle and special interest group has it's jargon, BigPoppa -- that doesn't mean the words or phrases don't have real meaning and value to those using them. By your standard I can think of a lot of words used outside of "Christian circles" that could just as rightly be declared linguistic junk.

Anna Salisbury More than 1 year ago

Thanks so much PI for striving to be perspicacious! That's a really fun word.....

Jonathan Henry More than 1 year ago

@BigPoppa I hear 'unfortunate' all the time from non-Christians. You have a point with the other words, though.

syd collings More than 1 year ago

I read the entirety of Mr. Berlatsky's article and I didn't get the sense that he meant discernment in the way you're describing. He seems to be just annoyed by the constant hype around popular TV shows.

Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago

"Discernment" to me, especially in the sense it's used in the FOTF family of websites, is just more Christianese. It belongs on the linguistic junkpile along with "stand in the gap", "troublesome", "unfortunate", and "engaging the culture", among other words overused in PI's articles and reviews. In the strictest sense these words would be considered jargon, because they don't have much meaning outside of Christian circles.