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From Old French intellectuel, from Latin intellectualis


  • IPA(key): /ˌɪntəˈlɛk(t)ʃʊəl/, /ˌɪntəˈlɛk(t)ʃwəl/, /ˌɪntəˈlɛk(t)ʃəl/
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intellectual (comparative more intellectual, superlative most intellectual)

  1. Pertaining to, or performed by, the intellect; mental or cognitive.
    intellectual powers, activities, etc.
    • 1920, Harold Monro, Preface to s:The year's at the spring; an anthology of recent poetry
      Pleasure is various, but it cannot exist where the emotions or the imagination have not been powerfully stirred. Whether it be called sensual or intellectual, pleasure cannot be willed
  2. Endowed with intellect; having a keen sense of understanding; having the capacity for higher forms of knowledge or thought; characterized by intelligence or cleverness
    an intellectual person
    • 1894, Edgar Wilson Nye, Nye's History of the USA Chapter 30
      The Fenimore Cooper Indian is no doubt a brave and highly intellectual person, educated abroad, refined and cultivated by foreign travel, graceful in the grub dance or scalp walk-around, yet tender-hearted as a girl, walking by night fifty-seven miles in a single evening to warn his white friends of danger.
  3. Suitable for exercising one's intellect; perceived by the intellect
    intellectual employments
    • A good deal of nonsense is written about sport and entertainment. Many of us can, with pleasant ease, suspend a severely intellectual task for a few hours to witness a first-class football match.
  4. Relating to the understanding; treating of the mind.
    intellectual philosophy, sometimes called "mental" philosophy
  5. (archaic, poetic) Spiritual.
    • 1805, William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book II, lines 331-334 (eds. Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, & Stephen Gill, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1979):
      I deem not profitless those fleeting moods / Of shadowy exultation; not for this, / That they are kindred to our purer mind / And intellectual life []


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intellectual (plural intellectuals)

  1. An intelligent, learned person, especially one who discourses about learned matters.
    Synonym: highbrow
    Coordinate terms: egghead, nerd, geek
    • 1941, George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn:
      It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia that is not in some sense "Left". Perhaps the last right-wing intellectual was T. E. Lawrence. Since about 1930 everyone describable as an “intellectual” has lived in a state of chronic discontent with the existing order.
    • 1991, Stephen Fry, The Liar, pp. 20–21:
      ‘You know I hate intellectuals.’
      ‘You mean you hate people who are cleverer than you are.’
      ‘Yes. I suppose that's why I like you so much, Tom.’
  2. (archaic) The intellect or understanding; mental powers or faculties.
    • 1646, Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, London: Edw. Dod & Nath. Ekins, 1650, Book I, Chapter 1, p. 2,[1]
      [] although their intellectuals had not failed in the theory of truth, yet did the inservient and brutall faculties control the suggestion of reason []

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