Definition of polymath in US English:



  • A person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning.

    • ‘In high school, I studied American history with a nineteenth-century-style polymath who assigned us readings from Richard Hofstadter.’
    • ‘A prodigy and a polymath, he first came to notice as ‘the bad boy of music’ in the Twenties Paris avant-garde, associated with Pound.’
    • ‘There is a similar irony in the fact that he was one of the last great polymaths - not in the frivolous sense of having a wide general knowledge, but in the deeper sense of one who is a citizen of the whole world of intellectual inquiry.’
    • ‘Raskin's CV reads something like a masterclass in being a polymath: he was an accomplished musician, programmer and designer.’
    • ‘His portrait of this elusive, intensely private genius describes Faraday's links with painters and poets, polymaths and mystics.’
    • ‘What I didn't know at the time was he was also a polymath, with a wide range of interests and a photographic memory.’
    • ‘These polymaths often resented their lack of recognition from specialist professional academics, and compensated by seeking political success.’
    • ‘He was a polymath and was offered a history scholarship before opting for medicine.’
    • ‘James Lighthill was indeed a brilliant scientist; but he was also a polymath, with knowledge, insight and enthusiasm for the arts and humanities.’
    • ‘In an age of polymaths who mastered all the disciplines, knew many languages, and wrote more than any modern can read, chronology, with its varied contents and technical difficulties, seemed the essence of scholarship.’
    • ‘For as long as there has been a publishing industry, there have been used books, that supposedly quaint world of polymaths and antiquarians poking about musty, cluttered stores for titles few readers would know.’
    • ‘A prodigious polymath, he wrote on subjects as varied as grammar and gout, ethics and eczema, and was highly regarded in his lifetime as a philosopher as well as a doctor.’
    • ‘In a century of eclectic geniuses, Casanova was a supreme polymath.’
    • ‘I took heart from an interview with Thomas Stoppard where somebody said to him, ‘You're such a polymath,’ and he said, ‘Yes, for about three months.’’
    • ‘An autodidact and a polymath, Wallace studied economics, meteorology, history, genetics, and many other subjects.’
    • ‘This, Zimmer claims, was the achievement of the group of virtuosi - highly talented polymaths more or less trapped in Oxford during the civil war and the Cromwellian republic of the mid-17th century.’
    • ‘If you are one of the benighted majority, you should know that he was one of those Victorian Scottish polymaths; a poet, theologian, and geologist of some genius.’
    • ‘Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Judith Shulevitz gushed, ‘Novelists, in short, have become our public intellectuals - our polymaths, our geographers, our scholars of the material world.’’
    • ‘This mystical attraction to words would lead him not only to become a linguistic polymath, but to invent his own private language, with its own alphabet, which he used in writing his diary.’
    • ‘Moreau's art is a reassemblage of the memory and the tricks of the memory, as thorough and as convolute as Proust's vast quest for a half-lost past that was, likewise, the lifework of a polymath spellbound by beauty.’
    intelligent person, learned person, highbrow, academic, bookworm, bookish person, man of letters, woman of letters, bluestocking, thinker, brain, scholar, sage
    View synonyms


Early 17th century: from Greek polumathēs ‘having learned much’, from polu- ‘much’ + the stem of manthanein ‘learn’.