Etymology of Intelligence

Intelligence is a bit of a difficult thing to define.

It is described by most dictionaries as the capacity to obtain and apply skills and knowledge and/or the capacity to learn and adapt. It can also be secret information gathered by an organization.

It can also be described as a faculty that allows one to make good judgments based on reason.

Intelligence and the ability to channel it is highly valued in society. Mentally complex career paths such as programming and medicine often pay very well and require a lot of study.


Starting with the Latin word intelligere, which means realization or understanding, this word eventually evolved into the Latin intelligentia, meaning intelligence.

Intelligentia later on transformed into the Old French intelligence, and we just copied our French friends without changing much of anything.

The book, Play Intelligence: From IQ to PIQ by James W. Findlay, explains that the word intelligentia is based on the contraction of two words: inter and legere. Inter means between while legere means choose or pick out.

Intelligentia, therefore, if we look at it through this lens, can be said to mean the ability to pick between options.

Intelligence in Other Languages

Albanian: inteligjencës

Basque: adimen

Bosnian: inteligencija

Catalan: intel·ligència

Croatian: inteligencija

Czech: inteligence

Danish: intelligens

Dutch: verstand

Estonian: intelligentsus

French: intelligence

Galician: intelixencia

German: Intelligenz

Hungarian: intelligencia

Italian: intelligenza

Norwegian: intelligens

Polish: inteligencja

Portuguese: inteligência

Spanish: inteligencia

Swedish: inteligens


Barnhart, Robert K., ed., Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co., 1988.

de Vaan, Michiel, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages, Alexander Lubotsky ed., Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Findlay, James W. Play Intelligence. Print.

The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., Clarendon Press, 1989.