Word of the Day: Polymath

//Word of the Day: Polymath

Word of the Day: Polymath

Definition: A person of wide knowledge or learning.

The word comes from ‘polumathes’—a 17th-century Greek word that means ‘having learned much’.

Polymaths are usually associated with the explosion of art, creativity and critical thinking that happened during the Renaissance. One example was Leonardo da Vinci—a great painter, sculptor, cartographer and writer, who may have invented the helicopter in his spare time.

These days, the internet makes knowing stuff about lots of stuff easy. In fact, it’s impossible to keep up.

Edward Carr in Intelligent Life magazine calls polymaths an ‘endangered species’—arguing that the greater volume of information available to more people means that society values specialists (‘monomaths’) over generalists.

Try telling that to an unemployed PhD graduate.

Maybe these days, being a polymath is not about how much you know—but about how you apply what you know to solve a new problem. A group of mathematicians have started what they loosely call the Polymath Project, where unsolvable maths problems are put out there for anyone to solve.

Then again, that’s a project—not a person.

Does the internet make us all polymaths? Or are polymaths really extinct?

By |2017-05-19T08:20:29+00:00January 29th, 2016|WOTD|2 Comments

About the Author:

Minnie has a Master of Public and International Law degree, and specialises in writing for vulnerable audiences—making complex policy meaningful to those who need it most.


  1. Andrew January 30, 2016 at 3.25pm - Reply

    Emilie Wapnik would argue that the modern trend and ability to move between careers has created a new wave of polymaths, which she refers to as ‘Multipotentialites’. Dont feel like I can reference myself in the same context as Leonardo, but I can relate to Emilie’s talk, I really enjoy learning and being a generalist!


    • Minnie January 31, 2016 at 2.03pm - Reply

      Maybe the real point is that polymaths haven’t changed and there are still as many as ever (or more), but society doesn’t recognise them in the same way that it used to—or should. Interesting video!

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