Vocab from the Headlines: Polymath

Photo credit Greg2600 via Flickr CC-BY-ND

Recently on social media, I saw that Riz Ahmed, musician and actor, (Star Wars: Rogue One) was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2017. The post called him a “polymath”, a curious term that I wanted to learn more about. It actually has much less to do with math than I expected.

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Polymath \pä-lē-math\ noun from the Greek polymathēs, very learned; from poly (multiple) + manthanein to learn

  • A person of encyclopedic learning; someone who knows a lot about many different things

Turns out, calling Riz Ahmed a polymath doesn’t mean he’s a mathematician, it means he has talent and interest in many different areas, including music, acting, and activism. Here’s what Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda said about Ahmed in his Time tribute:

“Riz Ahmed has been quietly pursuing every passion and opportunity for many years as an actor (The Road to Guantanamo, Four Lions, Nightcrawler), rapper (Post 9/11 Blues, Englistan) and activist (raising funds for Syrian refugee children, advocating representation at the House of Commons). The year 2016 was when all the seeds he planted bore glorious fruit, and here’s the best part: he’s just getting started.”

So, a polymath sounds a lot like a Renaissance Man, such as Thomas Jefferson, who I featured in a recent post.

Word Nerd Workout

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Can you think of another polymath from real life or literature or movies? While I write this, I’m wondering, would it be better to focus on one thing and be really good at it? Or to know a lot about many different things? I have so many interests, I would love to pursue them enough to be called a “polymath”.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me today!








Julia Tomiak
I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and Wordsmithstudio.org.


  1. Great word! Steve Martin is kind of a polymath–he’s a stand-up comedian and actor and writer of novels and a pretty serious banjo player as well.

  2. I’ve never heard of the word “polymath,” but I would have been wrong had I guessed the definition! I know a little about many different things, which doesn’t make me a polymath, but it makes me fairly good at Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy!

  3. If America thinks its actors and rappers are polymathetic, then we are in even worse intellectual shape than I thought… especially in the media.

  4. I read this post about Riz but of course I did not look up what “polymath” was. How interesting, and so apropo from my last post when I pondered such things. I often feel I’m going to be “jack of all trades, master of none” if I don’t focus on one specialty. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but I also want to be really really good at a few passions, you know?

    Thanks for the word – and that Riz truly is amazing. I wonder what his daily schedule is like?

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