ABC News thinks you're too dumb to know what 'perspicacious' means

ABC News added a graphic to yesterday’s current-events show This Week when host Christiane Amanpour used the word “perspicacious” to describe Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom. Check out  the graphic ABC put up, defining the word, about six minutes into this clip:

This isn’t merely insulting; it’s also a depressing, dismaying precedent to set. The idea that someone in the ABC control room went into a panic when its host used a “big word” is bad enough; that it was then decided that viewers needed immediate help figuring out what Amanpour was saying is rather appalling.

I don’t know about you, but when someone uses a word I’m not familiar with, I do something… I look it up. It’s easier than ever, given, you know, the internet and all. But the idea that such a fairly ordinary word as “perspicacious” caused ABC to break out in a pop-up-video rash would be ridiculous if wasn’t insulting.

No word yet on what Amanpour felt about being translated while speaking English on American TV.

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (278 total) Add your comment
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  • Smarty Pants

    I know what it means, because I just watched the episode of Drop Dead Diva where Jane uses it, and Stacey thinks she means perspiration (from Season 1).

    • Sam J

      I’m not a great reader, but I took an online I.Q. test and scored 133, I couldn’t read the word perspicacious and define it. Hearing it in context is easier, but still gives me pause. I never shoulda trusted an online I.Q. test. Stupid!!!

      • Carol

        That test score could be completely accurate. The test is related to intelligence, as opposed to knowledge, which is acquired (such as knowing a definition).

      • Laurence

        Aren't mviwdies fantastic?I dunno, Speech Therapy helped Patrick immensely at age 4-6. Would he have been helped more if he was doing it earlier? Maybe, but we'll never know. His speech is normal now, so perhaps that would have happened no matter what age. It did turn out, in retrospect, that we were doing a lot of 'instinctive therapy' before we found out he was autistic. I have video of me teaching him how to ask for juice Took us a month.

    • Jennifer

      What are you going on about Tucker?
      It’s NOT a common word – and it was HELPFUL that they did that and EDUCATIONAL to those that didn’t know.
      Of all the things to complain about. Absurd.

      • Jennifer

        Tucker obviously thinks a LOT of the EW readers are dumb. At least several of the readers have been honest enough in the thread to admit they don’t know the word.
        What a jerk Tucker is.

      • UZ

        That’s preposterous!

      • Liz

        I think it was helpful, I didn’t know this word either. It saved me the time it would have taken to look it up. Thanks ABC news for saving me one minute of online searching.

      • Isembard

        Jennifer, please speak for yourself. I am literate as are my friends and family, so yes, we’ve heard this word that you find so exotic.

      • Tarc

        A LOT of EW readers (and Americans) ARE dumb. Anad many, many more are incredibly ignorant, often willfully. Ken’s right on this one.

      • Yo

        But did he induce you to watch a ten minute debate on the Constitution? Good work, Tucker.

      • Michael

        Isembard…speak for YOURSELF. There are many, MANY people who couldn’t define that word. And, more importantly, many people are too lazy or unmotivated to look the word up. Literate, schmiterate.

      • Strepsi

        Yours is the country that changed the title to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, because they don;t think Americans know what a PHILOSOPHER is.

        The only thing worse than Americans’ intellect is the opinion of News and Book Editors of y’all.

      • valdar

        sorry jennifer. I didn’t know what it meant. but I would rather have looked it up. ABC’s assumption that their viewers would need the definition was insulting. not for nothing, but Bill O’Reilly has a word of the day, every day. he doesn’t define it. he expects you to look it up…..

    • ann

      As a lawyer, I spent much of my life being schooled and yet, I didn’t know what it means. It is not a common word.
      What’s so wrong with what they did? I bet most Americans don’t know what the word means except for spelling bee people or maybe students who are studying for the SATs. Yes, looking up words is super easy, but I doubt many people would have done it. I’m sorry Ken, but you are way off on this one.

      • J9

        Then Ann, you are not a lawyer. I can say that this word was used in law school, more than once. If you did not know it, as you should have learned in school – Look It Up!

      • RE

        Sorry J9, but Ann is 100% correct on this one. I have a JD, LLM, as well as a PHD in philosophy, and I’ve never heard that word before in my life. That doesn’t mean Ann and I aren’t lawyers. Last I checked my license wasn’t renewed based upon my command of any obscure words that we may or may not have heard once in a Civ Pro class. There are a lot of words in the English language. No one person can (or should) know them all. As Ken correctly pointed out… that’s what the internet is for!

    • datruth82

      To some extent, I get where Tucker is coming from. Today’s generation doesn’t read, and their spelling is atrocious (even in the workplace).

      BUT, with all that said, this is not a commonly used word in most people’s lexicon. So, he may have chosen a poor word to use to prove his point.

      • Ada

        I agree. I just took my GRE and studied this word. Two months after the test I recognized the word but wouldn’t have been able to tell you what it meant. In context of the quote it was difficult to determine as well. I think Ken Tucker just needs to get out of the entertainment news industry. He’s always so bitter about everything. It could start raining money and he’d complain about it. Fire Tucker EW!

      • valdar

        @datruth82: any word would have been the wrong one for such a pandering move. I found ABC’s elite attempt at “enlightening the unwashed masses” to be condescending and boorish.

      • Kyriakos

        Little Da's quirk of hniidg from other people could be just that – a quirk. Sarah went through a phase like that. She's "NT" but is quirky in her own right. Whoever isn't a little quirky is probably pretty boring.It's great to read success stories of early intervention like Little Da's. Hopefully it will encourage people who stumble across this to step out of denial (if they're in it) and get their child some help.

    • True Dat

      Tucker has always been an anal cancer. Unfortunatley it is not insulting. If I didn;t know what it was, I would look it up. Those who don’t care enough to look it up, DONT CARE. BTW, since I didn’t see the clip and Ken didn’t bother to define it, I guess I will go look it up !!!

    • Pete

      It might be depressing, but considering how stupid most people are, it’s just a sign of the times.

    • Shiny

      I see this thing a lot in network shows; the characters will use a big word, then clarify it immediately with a dumbed down version; it smacks of studio notes. The suits think Americans are dumb, or the suits are dumb and can’t fathom that Americans can glean the meaning of a word from the context the word is presented in. It’s worrying that we are quite happily slipping into an Mike Judge’s fabled Idiocracy.

      • allie

        I, too, feel your pain.

      • Mocha

        Oh, sorry, I’m missing the word “episode” in the first sentence. Whatever, the meaning’s still clear, hopefully.

      • Mocha

        Huh, my first comment disappeared. Oh well. I think it’s sad that news stations assume their audiences are too stupid to know “hard” words; also, people who are interested enough to watch an episode that includes a ten-minute debate on the Constitution are probably willing to look up new words themselves. I find it even sadder that some highly-educated anchors think they have to dumb themselves down to connect with us stupid, unwashed, illiterate masses, because we’re supposedly threatened by elitist intellect.

    • LillyCB

      @Smarty Pants I knoowww!!! I saw it too!!! LOL!!

      • Depredador

        Here’s a CFE theory qouitsen: Can progress in endurance sports be narrowed down to one aspect? Strength & conditioning (S&C) or weight loss? In other words would a greater benefit (benefit = increased peformance, increased rate of recovery) come from either (A) constant strength+decreased body mass, or (B) constant body mass+increased strength (effectively maintaining body mass to strength ratio)? Ideally the endurance athlete would not want extra baggage and would want to be as light as possible while being as strong as possible, minimizing the body mass to strength ratio. In other sports such as American football or others that have weight classes, body weight plays a more obvious strategic role in what position or class the athlete would perform best. I’d love to hear some thoughts from the group.

    • Ptnyc

      I had no idea what the definition was, so thanks ABC, it helps to put it in context immediately, rather than looking it up later. I wasn’t insulted!

    • anthcas

      Sorry Ken. You’re dead wrong on this one. I have an IQ of 139. While I may have known the term when I was much younger I don’t remember now. It most definitely is not a common word (perhaps only at a Mensa meeting). This is entirely appropriate by ABC as the intent of news is to inform and, yes, perhaps even educate. With any form of communication in order to be effective you need to understand who your audience is. A paper written by a college professor to be shared with his colleagues on a technical topic would be written to their level. A general news article or news program should cater to the general public. Does it surprise you that the average equivalent grade level proficiency for the general public is about third to fourth grade English? I would say your indignant attitude stems from your distaste for people who do not have such a well versed command of the English language. Lighten up, Ken. It can only do good things to educate. I welcome the translation. I am not offended in the least, nor should anyone.

    • Dr. WIse

      They shoulda bleeped that evil word!

      • Dr. WIse

        ABC News may be run by filthy whoremongers.

  • Heather

    Well, I wouldn’t call perspicacious a “fairly ordinary” word. I’ve never even heard it and I was raised by a former English teacher who uses big words several times a day. Still, I agree with the basic point of this article. Is this leading to a point where we’re going to expect journalists to only use elementary vocabulary?

    • KiKi

      Why not? In my writing for a “general audience” I am required to write for a 6th grade education level. No more. That is apparently the reading comprehension level of the average American.

    • The Lord

      I am a goat farmer with a 3rd grade education and I know the word.

      It’s in the Holy Bible – Ezekiel 44:13

  • Balance

    I do agree that I can easily look up a word that I don’t know the meaning of.

    However, putting the meaning on screen, though unnecessary, is definitely not insulting.

    • HM

      No, it’s definitely insulting. But yes, it’s really hilarious.

      • Joe

        I think it’s a good idea what they did. They put up the pronunciation as well as the definition, also she was reading a quote involving the word. Who honestly is going to bust out a dictionary to look up a definition during a program, seriously. Anyone taking insult to what abc news did needs to take that stick out of their @ss… Seriously, what a ridiculous article, welcome to EW!

      • caterpi

        um…i think thats the point. no one needs to bust out a dictionary. thats what the internet is for

      • Jennifer

        The only thing “depressing” and “dismaying” is that this EW writer is in such a personal bitter place that he raises a stink about such an innocent thing. If this is his attempt at being old and curmudgeony like Andy Rooney from 60 minutes, it’s a FAILED ONE.

      • Liz

        @Jennifer, I hate Andy Rooney on 60 minutes. He’s always complaining about something. Why is he even on 60 Minutes? Who really cares that he thinks ice cream doesn’t taste as good now as it did back in the 1800’s when he was born? Nobody.

  • Nancy

    It’s completely insulting, especially because it didn’t fit the tone of the program. It was a high level discourse on major issues, not ‘Pop-Up Video.’ From what I can tell ‘This Week’ has not felt the need to do this before.

    • Dave

      Uhm did you even watch the clip? She was reading a quote from someone that involved the word… She didn’t drop the word in a natural conversation.

  • Insulted

    I didn’t know what “perspicacious” meant before watching this clip, and I consider myself an educated man. This article is more insulting than the clip itself, implying that I’m an idiot because I don’t know such a “fairly ordinary word”


    Listen, I don’t wanna be this way cause I love me some America but, it wasn’t that big a snafu. That word hasn’t been used in the vernacular regularly for a while. It’s a little sad but not that bad.

  • tvfruitcake

    Oh how sad! I learned that word in middle school. I think that it says something about ABC and the state of education in this country.

    • ikagirl

      The ABC staff probably didn’t understand it. Sad indeed.

      • Jennifer

        It’s not sad AT ALL. It’s an ackward word that NOBODY uses in everyday language. Amanpour is quoting SOMEBODY ELSE and the ABC interns threw the word up to SAVE ANYBODY THE HASSLE that didn’t know the word.
        This article is a JOKE. Tucker, are you really this negative???

      • ikagirl

        Oh, it’s sad. People are able to look up words they don’t recognize. The staffers should have realized that and left it alone. Just as you should know that typing in all caps is poor etiquette. No need to shout.

      • Anya

        I thought it was a little silly that they flashed the definition on the screen. However, it is not a commonly used word. I think I was probably taught this word in a vocabulary lesson in school once, and that is probably the only time I’ve ever heard it. It is not a fairly common word, so I can’t really agree with this article either.

    • tommymommy

      I consider myself fairly well versed in vocabulary, and an English major, and I’ve never heard that word before.

      • Wha’ever

        Then you consider yourself wrong. How can you not know this word ? English isn’t even my first language and I know it and have used it already. This is sad…

      • Woot

        OH MY GOD YOU DON’T KNOW A SINGLE WORD!!!! Seriously Wha’ever sometimes people have never heard a word that others have heard for a while. I am an english minor, I have never gotten lower than an A on a college essay (I know I’m coming off as pretentious… just trying to prove a point), and I write for my school newspaper… and I honestly have never heard this word or seen it written. Our vocabulary is so vast, and our education is so varied that it’s impossible to learn every word… even a word that many people are familiar with.

      • caterpi

        okay, again…not the point. if the word was used, and you heard it, and you wanted to know what it meant, then you should look it up.

      • Marc

        Add me to the list of English speakers who’ve never heard this word. Those of you familiar with it? Good for you, but spare the rest of us your disdain; at best, it’s a relatively obscure term rarely (if ever) used in everyday conversation. I’d hardly call ABC’s actions insulting, but I agree that people should be trusted to look up the definition of a word for themselves without having it flashed across the screen.

      • Gahaha

        “then consider yourself wrong”….what exactly do you mean by this….that tommymommy should not consider him/herself well versed in vocabulary? Since when did well versed mean omniscient?

      • wha’ever

        Ok, maybe I was a little harsh in my first comment. But, as I said, English is not my first language and I know that word. I find it weird that highly educated Americans don’t ! It doesn’t make sense to me that they would feel the need to be explained what it means. So, obviously when you learn a foreign language in your country you tend to be taught a vocabulary that isn’t always used in everyday life…

      • roz2001

        I didn’t know what the word was either and I consider myself fairly intelligent. I could not look it up if one does not know how to spell it

    • Ather

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  • Dean

    Well I consider myself a fairly educated guy but I’m not very familar with the word. Putting the definition up is definitely silly, but the thing I find more offensive is ken’s assertion that this is a “fairly ordinary” word (read: you’re an idiot if you don’t know it).

    • Genie

      I agree, I felt the same way about his comment.

      • Ashley

        I was an English major, I teach middle school English and vocabulary, and I didn’t know the word. However, I agree with his point. We’re always teaching the kids to look words up themselves. Plus, people!

      • MissMel

        I’m an English major as well and I’ve never encountered this word outside a grade school spelling bee. Still, it seems ridiculous to put the definition of a word up on a serious newscast aimed at adults. Anyone watching a program of this nature either knows the word or knows enough to look it up.

      • Bunnyman

        Firstly, I cannot believe no one has commented on the offensive title of Ken’s title which probably only serves to self satisfy a man who is writing a column like this at 1030pm on July 4th! Light a sparkler Ken! That said, I agree with him.

    • MCS

      Agreed. The headline should read “Ken Tucker thinks you’re too dumb to know what ‘perspicacious’ means”.

    • Amanda

      I feel the same way about Ken’s commentary. I know what perspicacious means, but I would not say that it is common. It struck me as obnoxious that he implies that if you don’t understand that word, then you are stupid. The graphic is insulting, but so is Ken.

  • Fred

    Whenever myy 6th grade daughter asks what a word means we make he look it up and read it to us. That is the way a child learns. Sometimes her Mom remembers things from long lost classes! I’m sad that networks realize that the vast amount of people watching their show don’t know what different words mean or are willing/able to have the means to look them up?

    • Fred

      What I meant i it isn’t the media’s job to educate our children, it is our job as parents to do that particular job. Too many people let the culture of the time do the training, not the parent.

      • Fred

        Yes, I agree. I sometimes even fall into the trap before I figure it out and bolt.

  • kitty pryde

    I’m quite perspicacious when it comes to knowing the meaning of ‘big words’, ABC.

    • Ajinkya

      Each run is separate. Yes, there is rest after each iartevnl. Work:Rest 1:1. Rest the exact time it takes to complete each iartevnl in a set. (200m in 35s, rest 35s, 400m in 1:20, rest 1:20, 600m in 2:00, rest 2:00, start the next round). No extra rest between rounds.

  • A Concerned Citizen

    It’s a perfectly cromulent word. However, in watching the clip, if you are unfamiliar with the word, it was difficult to figure out what she meant in context and it would be hard to look up later.

    • Insulted

      Well, Ken Tucker certainly embiggens his role with this critique

      • deedeedragons

        LOL. The Simpsons still rules over everything else.

      • Joey JoJo Shabadoo

        Indeed. I only knew of the word because Lisa Simpson once used it!

      • Yesenia

        “I’m losing my perspicacity!!!!”. Lol, yup, thats how I know the word too

  • APS221

    On Sunday night, PBS aired “Hallowe’en Party,” and they didn’t feel the need to put the definition on the screen when Hercule Poirot used the word.

    • pastafarian

      The son of Zeus can talk any way he’d like. This is Amurrca.

    • Collins

      ME GM: worked up to 205 2 (first time relaly going heavy with these)WoD: rx’d w/ 185lb cleans 5:04recover 10min then tabata row 900+m I can’t remember the exact distance coveredUsually I would run and separate the endurance wod but did not have time today. I rowed because I have not rowed hard in while.

  • Tom

    Perspicacious is not a fairly ordinary word. That was extremely pretentious. You actually think that the average American uses word like that in everyday parlance? Come on!

  • greg

    The other day I asked the cashier at a snack bar where the condiments were. She stared at me blankly before finally confessing that she didn’t know what “condiments” meant. Sigh.

    • Genie


    • Summer

      That is mortifying!

    • Dirk

      It would have been funny if she directed you to go to the bathroom, to the condom machine.

      • Woot

        Or if she directed you to the condom and mint machine (because every workplace has one.)

      • pastafarian

        Birth control, aisle nine.

  • Daryl

    I don’t see the problem. I wasn’t familiar with the word but whenever I can’t figure out the meaning by the context of its usage, I’ll just look it up. Lighten up folks! Geesh, is this really newsworthy? And, to be honest, do you really think the average joe is gonna know the meaning of the word? Like it is SO common in the everyday venacular—completely condescending and a waste of time. There are more important and certainly, more interesting things to write about.

    • Genie

      It already has 18 comments so we obviously care. It struck a chord with at least 15 people so not such a waste of time.

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