- Resourcefulness and the drive to act; pluck
- Dependable good sense
So you've decided to look up the word gumption, eh? Well bully for you! Not everyone has the guts to go looking for new information - some people are afraid of what they might find out, and stick to safe, irresponsible ignorance. Heck, some are just too darn lazy to take the time to search through their lexicon when they come across an unknown word; these folks lack what old Uncle Al used to call "follow-through." But you, you're different. You have the good sense and pluck to find out what it is you're dealing with! How else would anyone ever learn a handy word like gumption?
Gumption is a slightly old-fashioned word that usually describes a person's sense of daring and personal initiative. People who have gumption know what they want to accomplish and are confident in their abilities to do so. Think of a plucky troop of scouts who embark on an ambitious hike, or an aspiring entrepreneur who asks for a loan to make her own dent in the universe: their gumption is on full display as they bravely set their sights on lofty goals, undaunted by the challenges they are sure to face. Through it all, those who have this trait show an unbendable motivation, an eagerness to thoroughly experience their adventure and walk away triumphantly. Those with enough gumption might even welcome a bit of adversity!
Mettle and resourcefulness are founded on a solid basis of common sense, and, indeed, the use of gumption implies an idea of shrewdness and real-world competence. In fact, older uses of the word specifically referred to practicality: for instance, someone with this kind of gumption would be likely to stock up on supplies before an impending blizzard. Although this meaning is somewhat uncommon these days, gumption in any sense is probably applicable to anyone with a good head on their shoulders.
Example: Impressed by the young woman's gumption in wanting to improve, Lilly's teacher offered to give her extra study resources.
Example: When her teacher offered the class optional study materials, Lilly had the gumption to accept.
You can't be intrepid and enterprising without having a little pragmatism; thus, it makes sense that the original meaning of gumption (first recorded in English in the early 1700s) was "rationality" or "common sense." Although much of the word's backstory is murky, we know that gumption came to English from Scottish, and some connect it to the Old Norse word gaumr, which means "regard" or "responsiveness." Today's common use of gumption to refer to motivation and a can-do attitude has been noted in English as far back as the early 19th century.
Gumptious: Gumptious is a relatively rare adjective that describes fortitude and entrepreneurial spirit.
Example: Lilly's gumptious studying wound up earning her a lavish scholarship.
From Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater:
"A poor man with gumption can still elevate himself out of the mire," said the Senator, "and that will continue to be true a thousand years from now."
"Maybe, maybe," Trout answered gently. "He may even have enough gumption that his descendants will live in a Utopia like Pisquontuit, where, I'm sure, the soul-rot and silliness and torpor and insensitivity are exactly as horrible as anything epidemic in Rosewater County.
Here, Vonnegut sardonically uses gumption to refer to a person's drive to achieve financial success while noting that human foibles and absurdities are the same in every social class.
- Gumption has the assumption it can succeed
- Show some gumption to be triumphant
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of gumption. Did you use gumption in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.