Intelligent is a word associated with positive qualities. It is used to address a human, animal, or other living creature with a “good understanding or a high mental capacity”1. But with the ability to collect and access data at any given moment in time, the quality of a high mental capacity in a person has become less impressive and needed. In modern times, intelligent applies more accurately to people who are perceptive, clever, rational, and reasonable thinkers2. It seems that the deciding factor of an intelligent person is not the knowledge they hold, but how effectively they are able to use it.
Intelligent is a Latin word used directly in the English language from the early 16th century, originally meaning understanding3. The Latin intelligent, originates from its action form intellegere, with a very similar definition: to understand3. On its own, inter means between and legere means choose1. By examining the origins of this word, it is recognizable that its true meaning is in fact concerned with the ability to choose and use knowledge, as opposed to remember and recite it.
Although intelligent did not appear in the English language until the fifteen hundreds, the word intelligence had been used since the late 14th century4. Intelligence originates from the Latin intelligentia, meaning the “understanding power of discerning; art, skill, taste”3. Intelligentia comes from the same word as intelligent – this being intellegere3.
Intelligence was used in the 15th century to describe the information or news secretly acquired by spies2. This form of intelligence was determined by the knowledge one held and could use against others, with a specific application to ongoing world events.
The I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient) test, created in 1921, qualified intelligent people on a basis of the “general capacity of an individual consciously to adjust his thinking to new requirements: it is general mental adaptability to new problems and conditions of life”3. This way of ranking one’s intelligence marked a time when people no longer attributed the word intelligent to those who were able to recite knowledge, but to those who were able to use it in the most effective way. Prior to these advances in the information world, people had to acquire their knowledge from others. Consequently, those who had the largest mental capacity, and could memorize the greatest amount of information, were deemed to be extremely intelligent. With the arrival of new technologies and the present information age, an ability to memorize the facts everyone had access to became less impressive. A new criteria of being intelligent was established, now encompassing one’s ability to effectively use knowledge and derive the most from it. This meaning is seen in the previously discussed Latin origin of intelligent, whose core word intellegere means to choose between3.
Intelligent humans are able to acquire and operate knowledge – in other words, they are adaptable problem solvers.
1. Intelligent. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/intelligent (accessed October 26, 2012).
2. Intelligent. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/intelligent (accessed: October 26, 2012).
3. Intelligent. Etymonline.com. Etymology Online. Dan McCormack. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=intelligent&allowed_in_frame=0
(accessed: November 09, 2012).
4. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. S.v. Intelligent. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/intelligent. (accessed: November 10, 2012).