AskDefine | Define genius

Dictionary Definition



1 someone who has exceptional intellectual ability and originality; "Mozart was a child genius"; "he's smart but he's no Einstein" [syn: mastermind, brain, Einstein]
2 unusual mental ability [syn: brilliance]
3 someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field [syn: ace, adept, champion, sensation, maven, mavin, virtuoso, hotshot, star, superstar, whiz, whizz, wizard, wiz]
4 exceptional creative ability [syn: wizardry]
5 a natural talent; "he has a flair for mathematics"; "he has a genius for interior decorating" [syn: flair] [also: genii (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin genius, household guardian spirit, from gens, tribe.



genius (plural: genii (classical Roman mythology) or geniuses (colloquial))
  1. someone possessing extraordinary intelligence or skill
  2. extraordinary mental capacity
  3. inspiration, a mental leap, an extraordinary creative process.
    a work of genius
  4. the guardian spirit of a place or person.
  5. A way of thinking, optimizing one's capacity for learning and understanding.


someone possessing extraordinary intelligence or skill
extraordinary mental capacity

Related terms



From Latin gens, household, clan, tribe + suffix -ius.


genius , genitive singular and nominative plural genii
  1. household guardian spirit

Usage notes

Second declension noun

Extensive Definition

A genius is a person of great intelligence, who shows an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and original work. Geniuses - or genii (see Etymology) - always show strong individuality and imagination, and are not only intelligent, but unique and innovative. The term may also be applied to someone who is a polymath, such as Goethe or da Vinci, but a polymath is generally considered a well-rounded genius, gifted in many areas, e.g. math, physics, art, poetry, etc. Einstein, for instance, was a genius in physics, but not necessarily in other areas such as art or literature. An example of a fictional genius is Sherlock Holmes, who had remarkable capabilities in the art of deduction, but whose knowledge in other fields of study, such as astronomy and philosophy, was below average, owing to a lack of professional interest.
Although the term "genius" is sometimes used to denote the possession of a superior talent in any field, e.g., Roger Federer may be said to have a genius for tennis or Winston Churchill for statesmanship, in many of these cases the term is applied incorrectly and should instead be used specifically to denote an exceptional natural capacity of intellect and creative originality in areas of art, literature, music, science and mathematics.


Genius may come in a variety of forms, such as mathematical genius, literary genius, or poetic genius, etc. Artistic genius may show itself in early childhood as a prodigy or later in life; either way, geniuses eventually differentiate themselves from the others through great originality. Intellectual geniuses often have crisp, clear-eyed visions of given situations, in which interpretation is unnecessary, and they build or act on the basis of those facts, usually with tremendous energy. Accomplished geniuses in intellectual fields start out in many cases as child prodigies, gifted with superior memory or understanding.
The classic skill of the musical genius is the capability of holding many different melodies in one's head at once and being able to understand how they interact with one another. It is said that the great classical composers (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, etc.) could hold five, six or even seven different melodies in their minds at once. They could write complicated music with many different parts without having to hear it played. In comparison, the average person can only hold one melody in their memory. Mozart, who apparently completed his musical compositions in his head and simply wrote them down when they were completed, wrote in a letter from 1770 that he wrote music 'like sows pissing', meaning that it flowed from him.
The multiple intelligences hypothesis put forth by Harvard University professor Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind states there are at least seven types of intelligences, each with its own type of genius. This theory, however, is rejected by most psychologists.
The most popular way of determining one's intelligence is with an Intelligence Quotient (better known as I.Q.) test. Two among the most influential psychologists studying intelligence, Lewis M. Terman and Leta Hollingworth, suggested two different numbers when considering the cut-off for genius in psychometric terms. Dr. Terman considered it to be an IQ of 140, while Dr. Hollingworth put it at an IQ of 180. Moreover, both these numbers are ratio IQs, which in deviation values used presently put the genius IQ cut-off at 136 (98.77th percentile) and 162 (99.994th percentile) respectively. There are also several examples of people with IQ levels in the genius range who have a disability or very low level in one of the subcategories. In addition to the fundamental criticism that intelligence measured in this way is an example of reification and ranking fallacies, the IQ test has also been criticized as having a "cultural bias" in its interpretation despite claims that these tests are designed to eliminate race/gender for example by predicting numerical sequences, etc. Accordingly, the definition of genius embraces those who do not necessarily have an IQ test score of this stature, or who have not even taken such a test. A vast intelligence is needed, but the mental state of possessing genius is based primarily upon an incredible understanding of complex issues and problems, and a profound creativity and imagination.


In Ancient Rome, the genius was the guiding or "tutelary" spirit of a person, or even of an entire gens, the plural of which was 'genii'. A related term is genius loci, the spirit of a specific locale. A specific spirit, or dæmon, may inhabit an image or icon, giving it supernatural powers.
A comparable term from Arabic lore is a djinn, often Anglicized as "genie". Note, however, that this term is considered a false friend, not a cognate by most Anglo-American anthropologists. Recent work by Russian, Romanian, Italian and a few American linguists may return the word to cognate status.
For more information on these etymological roots, see Genius (mythology).


Geniuses are often accused of lacking common sense, or emotional sensitivity. Stories of a genius in a given field being unable to grasp "everyday" concepts are abundant and of ancient vintage: in his dialog Theætetus, Plato offers a picturesque anecdote of the absentmindedness of Thales. Some individuals in this arena of "absent-minded professors" and persons lacking normal social skills fall in the autism spectrum (such as Asperger syndrome). A genius's intense focus on a given subject might appear obsessive-compulsive in nature (e.g., Howard Hughes and aviation), but it might also simply be a choice made by the individual. If one is performing groundbreaking work in one's field, maintaining other elements of life might logically be relegated to insignificance.
While the absent-minded professor notion is not without merit, a genius is just as likely to encounter emotional problems as anyone else. Note the peculiarities of figures like Glenn Gould. Eccentricities such as the ones conveyed by Gould are most likely because of the vast brainpower which normally comes with genius. Einstein was also known for his quirky behaviour. Some geniuses' works are also unappreciated during their lifetimes due to their tendency to be ahead of their time.
Socio-emotional problems are more prevalent in geniuses with an IQ above 145 (on the Wechsler Scale). Asynchronous development is the primary cause of this. As most children do not share gifted children's interests, vocabulary, or desire to organize activities, the genius child may withdraw from society.
Some research shows that reasons other than maladjustment make companionship difficult to find for geniuses. As intelligence of a person increases, the number of those whom he or she considers peers tends to decrease. For example, at an IQ of 135 (on the Wechsler Scale) only every hundredth person would be of equal or greater IQ. This number shrinks significantly as IQ goes up.
Dr. Leta Hollingworth introduced the idea of an essential "communication limit" based on IQ. According to her theory, to be a good leader of one's contemporaries, he/she must be more intelligent but not too much more intelligent than the people who are being led. This implies that geniuses may not make good leaders of those substantially less gifted and that they could have disdain for authority. The theory also states that children and adults become intellectually ostracized from their contemporaries when an IQ difference of 30 points or more exists.


Variegated examples from philosophers are indicative of attempts to either propose a definition of what genius is and what that implies in a limited context, or to establish certain qualifications that could deem "genius" as explicable and of fundamental value in a broader human context.
In the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, a genius is a person in whom intellect predominates over "will" much more than within the average person. In Schopenhauer's aesthetics, this predominance of the intellect over the will allows the genius to create artistic or academic works that are objects of pure, disinterested contemplation, the chief criterion of the aesthetic experience for Schopenhauer. Their remoteness from mundane concerns means that Schopenhauer's geniuses often display maladaptive traits in more mundane concerns; in Schopenhauer's words, they fall into the mire while gazing at the stars.
In the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, genius is the ability to independently arrive at and understand concepts that would normally have to be taught by another person. In the Kant Dictionary (ISBN 0-631-17535-0), Howard Caygill talks of the essential character of "genius" for Kant being originality. This genius is a talent for producing ideas which can be described as non-imitative. Kant's discussion of the characteristics of genius is largely contained within the Critique of Judgement and was well received by the romantics of the early 19th century.

Study of genius

Reader's Digest reported on a study of life and habits of many geniuses. Writers agreed on three common characteristics of geniuses:
  1. Systematic and orderly approaches to problem solving.
  2. Sense of wonder, ability to look at things in a fresh, almost childlike way. They keep an open mind and a flexible attitude on all subjects.
  3. Ability to concentrate with greater depth and intensity than the average person.

See also


  • Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds
  • Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen
  • Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman
  • The Mismeasure of Man, revised and expanded
  • Old Masters and Young Geniuses : The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity
  • Hereditary Genius

External links

genius in Arabic: عبقرية
genius in Czech: Génius
genius in Danish: Geni
genius in German: Genie
genius in Spanish: Geni
genius in Esperanto: Genio
genius in French: Genius
genius in Korean: 천재
genius in Indonesian: Jenius
genius in Italian: Genio (filosofia)
genius in Hebrew: גאון
genius in Lithuanian: Genijus
genius in Dutch: Genie (persoon)
genius in Japanese: 天才
genius in Norwegian: Geni
genius in Portuguese: Gênio (pessoa)
genius in Romanian: Geniu
genius in Russian: Гениальность
genius in Simple English: Genius
genius in Slovak: Génius
genius in Slovenian: Genij
genius in Serbian: Геније
genius in Finnish: Nerous
genius in Swedish: Geni
genius in Ukrainian: Геніальність
genius in Urdu: جینیس
genius in Yiddish: גאון
genius in Chinese: 天才

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

A per se, Baba Yaga, Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Geist, Lilith, Melpomene, Muse, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, ability, ableness, academician, ace, acuity, acuteness, adept, adequacy, adroitness, afflatus, afreet, ancestral spirits, angel, animating spirit, animation, animus, aptitude, aptness, artistic imagination, astuteness, attendant godling, atua, barghest, bent, body-build, bookman, boss, brain, braininess, brains, brand, brightness, brilliance, bump, cacodemon, caliber, capability, capableness, capacity, cast, champion, character, characteristic, characteristics, chief, child prodigy, classicist, clear thinking, clerk, cleverness, colossus of knowledge, commander, competence, complexion, composition, conception, constituents, constitution, control, crackerjack, crasis, creative imagination, creative power, creative thought, creativity, daemon, daeva, daimonion, dean, demon, devil, dexterity, dharma, diathesis, disposition, divine afflatus, dower, dowry, dybbuk, efficacy, efficiency, endowment, enlivenment, equipment, esemplastic imagination, esemplastic power, esprit, ethos, evil genius, evil spirit, evil spirits, exhilaration, expert, facility, faculty, fairy godmother, familiar, familiar spirit, fiber, fiend, fiend from hell, fire, fire of genius, firing, first-rater, fitness, flair, forte, frame, fugleman, genie, genius domus, genius loci, ghoul, giant of learning, gift, gifted child, gifted person, giftedness, gifts, good angel, good genius, good hand, grain, grasp, great, guardian, guardian angel, guardian spirit, guide, gyre, habit, head, hellion, higher-up, household gods, hue, humanist, humor, humors, ilk, incubus, infection, infusion, ingenuity, inspiration, instinct, intellect, intellectual genius, intellectual prodigy, intelligence, inventiveness, invisible helper, jinni, jinniyeh, keen-wittedness, keenness, kind, knack, lamia, lares and penates, lares compitales, lares familiaris, lares permarini, lares praestites, lares viales, laureate, leader, leading light, learned clerk, learned man, literary man, litterateur, long suit, lover of learning, luminary, maestro, magician, mahatma, makeup, makings, man of genius, man of learning, man of letters, man of parts, manes, master, master hand, mastermind, mental alertness, mental genius, mental giant, mercurial mind, metier, mine of information, ministering angel, mold, moving spirit, muse, mythicization, mythification, mythopoeia, native cleverness, natural, natural endowment, natural gift, nature, nimble mind, nimble-wittedness, nimbleness, nonpareil, nous, numen, originality, paragon, parts, past master, penates, philologist, philologue, philomath, philosophe, philosopher, physique, poetic imagination, polyhistor, polymath, potential, power, powers, practiced hand, principal, prodigy, proficiency, property, pundit, qualification, quality, quick parts, quick thinking, quick wit, quick-wittedness, quickness, rakshasa, ready wit, ruler, sage, satan, savant, savvy, scholar, scholastic, schoolman, senior, shaping imagination, sharp-wittedness, sharpness, shedu, skilled hand, smartness, smarts, somatotype, sort, soul, special providence, speciality, specter, spirit, sprightly wit, stamp, star, streak, stripe, strong flair, strong point, student, succubus, suchness, sufficiency, superior, superman, supernatural being, superstar, susceptibility, system, talent, talents, temper, temperament, tendency, tenor, the goods, the greatest, the most, the stuff, the undead, tone, top dog, topnotcher, totem, turn, tutelar god, tutelary, type, understanding, vampire, vein, virtuoso, walking encyclopedia, way, what it takes, whiz, wit, wizard, wonder, yogini
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