Vocabulary-wise, How Wise Are You?

Wise is an adjective that means intelligent or smart. The noun form is wisdom, and the adverb form is wisely. We generally think of wisdom as knowledge that is gained over time due to experience and age. How are you doing? Well, I’m older but wiser. If I think you are about to do something wrong or bad, then I may say, “That would be unwise (not smart).”

Another use of “wise” is as a suffix, a word or particle appended at the end of some words. As a suffix, it is usually hyphenated (“wise”) but some words have become so common that the hyphen is no longer used in those words.

This lesson will discuss this use of the “-wise” suffix. As a suffix, “-wise” has two possible meanings:

  1. Smart or knowledgeable in a certain aspect (viewpoint, facet, or focus area).
  2. Focusing on or referring to a certain aspect or focus area.

I can only think of one example of Meaning #1: street-wise. Street-wise means knowledgeable about living “on the street”, mixing with ordinary people out in the real world. You may not know about champagne and Armani clothes, but you know how to get along with the common people who walk the streets every day and night. You know where and how to get things you need to survive. Generally, rich and famous people are not street-wise because they live in luxury in their expensive mansions far separated from the common people.

Meaning #2 is the more common use of this suffix. For example, grammar-wise does NOT mean knowledgeable about grammar. Grammar-wise means “focusing only on the grammar aspect of what we are discussing”. There are many aspects to learning a language: listening, speaking, writing, grammar, vocabulary, idioms, slang, etc. If I want to assess your word-recognition knowledge of English, I may ask you, “Vocabulary-wise, is your skill level low, medium, or high? In other words, do you know very many English words?” In this question, I don’t care about your grammar or listening, reading, or writing skills; I am interested only in how many words you can recognize and understand.

Another Example

Joe: We’re thinking about hiring that guy over there. His name is Pete. Do you know him?

Alan: Pete? Oh, yes, I know him.

Joe: What kind of a person is he? Would he fit in here?

Alan: Well, work-wise, he’s very competent and a hard worker. People-wise, he’s a loner. He doesn’t work well with people. He’s not a team player at all.

Joe: Hm, that’s a shame (that’s too bad) because we’re looking for people who are good team players. Okay, thanks for that input. We’ll keep looking then.

What are some other examples of Meaning #2?

  • Clockwise (circular motion in the same direction of clock movement)
  • Counterclockwise (circular motion in the opposite direction of clock movement)
  • Otherwise (referring to aspects other than what we just talked about)

Note that the above three words are so common that they have “lost” the hyphen over time.

Well, time-wise, I need to stop here. This lesson is getting too long.

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