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talent, n.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/ˈtalənt/
Hear pronunciation/ˈtaln̩t/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/ˈtælənt/
Forms:  Old English talente; Middle English– talent (Middle English taland(e, Middle English–1500s talente, talant, 1500s–1600s tallent).(Show Less)
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Etymology: In Old English talente  , -an  , = Old High German talenta   strong feminine, < Latin talenta  , plural of talentum  , < Greek τάλαντον   balance, weight, sum of money ( < verbal root ταλ-  , τλα-   to bear). In Middle English, < Old French talent   will, desire, lust, appetite, = Provençal talant  , talen  , Spanish talento  , Italian talento   (Old Spanish talante  , Portuguese talante  ), medieval Latin talentum   (1098 in Du Cange), in a Common Romanic sense ‘inclination of mind, leaning, wish, desire’. Branch III (also in modern French and Italian) originated in a figurative use of the word in sense 1b, taken from the parable of the talents, Matthew xxv. 14–30.
 I. An ancient weight, a money of account (Latin talentum).

 a. A denomination of weight, used by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and other ancient nations; varying greatly with time, people, and locality.The Royal Babylonian talent averaged about 29·87 kilograms or 65 lb. 13 oz.; the chief Greek varieties were the Old Æginetan talent of 40·3 kilog. (88 lb. 12 oz.), the later Æginetan or emporetic Attic, 36·4 kilog. (80 lb. 4 oz.), and the Solonic or later Attic, 25·8 kilog. (56 lb. 14 oz., or a little over half a hundredweight).

c893   tr. Orosius Hist. iv. vi. §1   Hanna..him ælce geare gesealde twa hund talentana siolfres: on ælcre anre talentan wæs lxxx punda.
1382   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) Exod. xxxviii. 26   An hundryd talentes of siluer.
1382   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) Rev. xvi. 21   And greet hayl as a talent cam doun fro heuen.
c1384   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) Zech. v. 7   Lo! a talent of lede was born.
a1513   R. Fabyan New Cronycles Eng. & Fraunce (1516) I. ccvi. f. cxxvii   There be thre maner of talentes. The firste & grettest is of ye weyghte of .vi. xx. li. weyght.
1552   R. Huloet Abcedarium Anglico Latinum   Talent, or certayne poyse or weyght, talentum.
1697   J. Dryden tr. Virgil Æneis ix, in tr. Virgil Wks. 474   With two great Talents of the finest Gold.
1801   Asiatic Ann. Reg. 1800 Suppl. Chron. 149/2   They afterwards advanced to deliver their presents, consisting of talents of gold and silver.
1807   J. Robinson Archæol. Græca v. xxvi. 551   Grecian weights reduced to English Troy weight:..Talent = 65 lb., 12 dwt., 543/ 49 grains.
1838   C. Thirlwall Hist. Greece (new ed.) III. xix. 121   The statue of Athene in the Parthenon alone contained forty talents weight of pure gold.

c893—1838(Hide quotations)


 b. The value of a talent weight (of gold, silver, etc.): a money of account.The Babylonian silver talent was equal to 3000 shekels; the Greek talent contained 60 minæ or 6000 silver drachmæ, and the value of the later Attic talent of silver, with pure silver at 4s. 9d. an oz. troy, has been estimated at £200; at a higher value of silver, at £243 15s. (N.E.D.)

c893   tr. Orosius Hist. iv. vi. §18   Eac him gesealden þæronufan iii. m talentana ælce geare.
c1384   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) Matt. xviii. 24   Oon was offrid to hym, that owȝte to hym ten thousand talentis.
c1384   Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) Matt. xxv. 15   As a man goynge fer in pilgrimage, clepide his seruauntis, and bitoke to hem his goodis; and to oon he ȝaue fyue talentis,..forsothe to an other two.
a1387   J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.) (1871) III. 5   Of þe whiche richesse..Hircanus þe bisshop ȝaf Anthiochus, Demetrius his sone, þre þowsand talentis.
1530   J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 279/1   Talent a somme of money, talent.
a1616   W. Shakespeare Timon of Athens (1623) ii. ii. 189   My occasions haue found time to vse 'em toward a supply of mony: let the request be fifty Talents .  View more context for this quotation
1771   Raper in Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 61 468   This way of reckoning 100 Drachms to the Mina, and 60 Minas to the Talent, was common to all Greece.
1879   J. A. Froude Cæsar xv. 228   He brought 7,000 talents—a million and a half of English money—to the Roman treasury.

c893—1879(Hide quotations)


c. Heraldry. Used as = bezant n. 3. Obsolete.

1486   Bk. St. Albans, Her. E iij   It is not necessari here to expres the colowre of the talentis or besantis: for thay be euer of golde.

1486—1486(Hide quotations)


d. figurative. Treasure, riches, wealth, abundance.

a1400–50   Alexander (Dublin) 1666   Takez hym to hys tresory, talentes hym shewys.
1563   J. Foxe Actes & Monuments 1311/1   All hayle holy crosse which hath deserued to beare the precious talent of the worlde.
a1606   Ballad Stucley in Simpson School of Shakspere (1878) I. 146   Many a noble gallant—sold both land and talent.
1609   W. Shakespeare Louers Complaint in Sonnets sig. K4v   And Lo behold these tallents of their heir, With twisted mettle amorously empleacht.
1635   J. Hayward tr. G. F. Biondi Donzella Desterrada 66   On her therefore spent he all the talent of his hatred.

a1400—1635(Hide quotations)

 II. Inclination, disposition (Old French talent).

2. Inclination, propension, or disposition for anything; ‘mind’, ‘will’, wish, desire, appetite.

[1292   Britton v. i. §1   Pur doner meillour talent a femmes de amer matrimoigne.]
c1325   Metr. Hom. (Vernon MS.) in Herrig Archiv LVII. 263   But hedde he no talent to chase.
1340   R. Rolle Pricke of Conscience 8459   To what thyng þe saule has talent, To þat þe body salle, ay, assent.
1398   J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomew de Glanville De Proprietatibus Rerum xii. vi. (Tollem. MS.)    To make hem haue talent to mete.
a1400  (a1325)    Cursor Mundi (Vesp.) l. 3913   Þan bigan þam tak talent [Fairf. talande, Gött. taland] To wend in to þair aun land.
c1440   Promptorium Parvulorum 486/1   Talent, or lyste,..appetitus, delectacio.
c1450   Bk. Hawkyng in T. Wright & J. O. Halliwell Reliquiæ Antiquæ (1845) I. 306   The which schall..make here have a talente to hire mete.
1485   W. Caxton tr. Paris & Vienne (1957) 6   Grete talent and desyre she had to knowe hym.
1489  (a1380)    J. Barbour Bruce (Adv.) iii. 694   The wynd wes wele to thar talent.
a1500  (a1460)    Towneley Plays (1994) I. ix. 89   Yis, lord, I am at youre talent.
1530   J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 279/1   Talent or lust, talent.

c1325—1530(Hide quotations)


3. An evil inclination, disposition, or passion; esp. and usually, anger: cf. maltalent n. and adj., ‘ill talent’, ill-will (which occurs somewhat earlier). Obsolete.

[c1330  (?c1300)    Bevis of Hampton (Auch.) 3978   Sire Beues þo, veraiment For-ȝaf him alle is mautalent.]
a1380   St. Ambrose 698 in Horstm. Altengl. Leg. (1878) 19   An officer greued Ambrose sore..And sende word to him wiþ gret talent.
c1386   G. Chaucer Man of Law's Tale 1039   Hym ne moeued outher conscience Or Ire or talent or som kynnes affray, Enuye, or pride.
c1412   T. Hoccleve De Regimine Principum 2326   Al his angir and his irrous talent Refreyned he.
1622   F. Bacon Hist. Raigne Henry VII 68   One that had of a long time borne an ill Talent towards the King.
1652   Earl of Monmouth tr. G. Bentivoglio Hist. Relations Flanders 41   Their tallent is alike evil against the Archduke Albertus and his wife.
1695   W. Temple Introd. Hist. Eng. (1699) 581   Several Writers shew their ill Talent to this Prince.

a1380—1695(Hide quotations)


 a. Disposition or state of mind or character.

c1330   Arth. & Merl. 5882   To geuen the other gode talent.
a1400   Lybeaus Disc. 612   Elene..ladde her ynto the greves..Wyth well good talent.
1450–80   tr. Secreta Secret. 15   The talent of man takith thereof gret strengthe and corage in alle manhode.

c1330—1450(Hide quotations)


b. transferred. Quality (of taste or flavour). rare.

1550   J. Heywood Hundred Epigrammes xcii. sig. Cvi   The talent of one chese in mouthes of ten men, Hath x. different tastis.
1606   G. W. tr. Justinus Hist. Pref.   As with a tun of Wine, which..doth take an euill talent of the Caske.

1550—1606(Hide quotations)

 III. Mental endowment; natural ability.[From the parable of the talents, Matt. xxv. 14–30, etc.]

 5. Power or ability of mind or body viewed as something divinely entrusted to a person for use and improvement: considered either as one organic whole or as consisting of a number of distinct faculties; (with plural) any one of such faculties.

c1430   J. Lydgate Minor Poems (Percy Soc.) 240   Who shal me save Fro feendys daunger, t'acounte for my talent?
1526   W. Bonde Pylgrimage of Perfection i. sig. Diiiiv   They be the talentes that god hath lent to man in this lyfe: of the whiche he wyll aske moste streyt accounte.
1574   J. Dee in H. Ellis Orig. Lett. Eminent Lit. Men (1843) (Camden) 39   That this florishing Kingdome may long enjoye the great Talent committed to your Lordship (from above).
1586   T. Bowes tr. P. de la Primaudaye French Acad. I. 374   Hide not this talent, but teach it others, and giue thy selfe an example vnto them of well doing.
1607   Fayre Mayde of Exchange in T. Heywood Wks. (1874) II. 60   His industry hath now increas'd his talent.
1669   A. Woodhead tr. Life St. Teresa (1671) ii. ii. 10   Our Lord having herein given him an extraordinary talent.
1695   J. Collier Misc. upon Moral Subj. 168   We should presume People have understood their Opportunities, and managed their Talent, and their Time to advantage.
1782   W. Cowper Conversation in Poems 212   Though nature weigh our talents, and dispense To ev'ry man his modicum of sense.
1842   C. Kingsley Lett. (1878) I. 59   Remember that your talents are a loan from God.

c1430—1842(Hide quotations)


 a. A special natural ability or aptitude, usually for something expressed or implied; a natural capacity for success in some department of mental or physical activity; †an accomplishment (obsolete).

1602   W. Watson Decacordon Ten Quodlibeticall Questions 336   Silly bodies and sorie fellowes of no talent gift or ability.
1635   J. Hayward tr. G. F. Biondi Donzella Desterrada Ep. Ded.   He alone having the talent of both conceiving and expressing himselfe.
c1660   J. Evelyn Diary anno 1644 (1955) II. 96   He would needes perswade me to goe along with him..to the Jesuites Colledge to be witnesse of his polemical talent.
1685   J. Dryden Sylvæ Pref. sig. a6   He is chiefly to be consider'd in his three different Talents, as he was a Critick, a Satyrist, and a Writer of Odes.
1693   W. Congreve Old Batchelour iv. iii. 38   Where did you get this excellent Talent of Railing?
1774   Ld. Chesterfield Lett. to Son I. x. 36   To write letters well..is a talent which unavoidably occurs every day of one's life.
1846   W. Greener Sci. Gunnery (new ed.) 398   They seem to possess a ‘talent’ for this sort of thing.
1849   T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. I. ii. 199   He had shown..two talents invaluable to a prince, the talent of choosing his servants well, and the talent of appropriating to himself the chief part of the credit of their acts.

1602—1849(Hide quotations)


 b. plural. Aptitudes or faculties of various kinds; mental powers of a superior order; abilities, parts.

1656   T. Blount Glossographia (at cited word)   We say, a man of good talents, i. of good parts or abilities.
a1684   J. Evelyn Diary anno 1654 (1955) III. 109   Mr. Gibbon that famous Musitian, giving us a tast of his skill & Talent on that Instrument.
1731   H. Fielding Letter-writers ii. i. 20   Love and War I find still require the same Talents.
1771   O. Goldsmith Hist. Eng. II. 259   The duke of Buckingham, a man of talents and power.
1796   M. Robinson Angelina I. 69   She is the only unaffected woman of talents I have met with.
1849   J. G. Whittier Leaves from Margaret Smith's Jrnl. in Prose Wks. (1889) I. 92   What avail great talents, if they be not devoted to goodness?
1895   N. W. Sibley in Law Times 99 476/2   It requires the talents of a Boileau, Molière, or La Fontaine to play the part of a flâneur with any success.

1656—1895(Hide quotations)


 c. collective singular (without a or plural). Mental power or ability; cleverness.

1622   J. Mabbe tr. M. Alemán Rogue (1623) i. 193   Other poore rogues of lesse talent.
1670   J. Smith England's Improvem. Reviv'd 6   As much as their Talent and Capacity will amount to.
1749   Mrs. Belfour in S. Richardson Corr. (1804) IV. 259   Your talent may be universal; I believe it is.
1764   O. Goldsmith Traveller 18   And talent sinks, and merit weeps unknown.
1771   T. Smollett Humphry Clinker I. 206   Without principle, talent, or intelligence.
1800   R. Southey Let. to J. Rickman 9 Jan. in C. C. Southey Life & Corr. R. Southey (1850) II. vi. 46   We have men of talent here also.
1809   S. T. Coleridge Own Times 655   The aristocracy of talent.
1821   S. Smith Wks. (1850) 313   A work in which great and extraordinary talent is evinced.
1847   R. W. Emerson Goethe in Wks. (1906) I. 390   In England and in America, there is a respect for talent.
1877   J. Morley Crit. Misc. 2nd Ser. 149   He was a person of no talent, his friends allowed.

1622—1877(Hide quotations)


 d. Talent as embodied in the talented; sometimes approaching or passing into the sense: Persons of talent or ability collectively; as singular, a person of talent. By the sporting press, applied to backers of horses, as distinguished from the ‘layers’ or bookmakers, the implication being that those whose investments make a horse a ‘favourite’ are supposed to be ‘the clever ones’. (Administration of) All the Talents (English History), an ironical appellation of the Ministry of Lord Grenville, 1806–7, implying that it combined in its members all the talents.

[1809   W. Scott Let. 15 Feb. (1932) II. 164   Yet the aggregate of talent from which assistance is expected is very formidable.
1838   T. B. Macaulay Sir William Temple in Ess. (1887) 452   Clarendon..seems to have taken a sort of morose pleasure in slighting and provoking all the rising talent of the kingdom.
1885   J. K. Jerome On Stage 17   Selfish fellows who wanted to keep young talent from the stage.]
1856   G. Davis Hist. Sketch Stockbridge & Southbridge, Mass. 213   It summoned to its investigation the first talents of the nation.
1883   Daily News 21 July 6/5   Xarifa was the most in demand, and the talent again proved correct in their choice, Mr. Valentine's filly winning a capital race by a neck.
1885   Field 3 Oct. 489/1   All the talent were discomfited though; as they often are in Nurseries.
1886   H. Hall Society in Elizabethan Age 100   Throughout the summer there were always two..of the local ‘talent’ engaged in fishing upon the manor.
1888   H. James in Fortn. Rev. May 651   M. Pierre Loti is a new enough talent for us still to feel something of the glow of exultation at his having not contradicted us, but [etc.].
1928   E. Blom Limitations Mus. 139   Honegger is a Swiss and a great talent to boot.
1958   Spectator 4 July 14/1   The studio, with its presiding talent, Lee Strasberg.
1977   Rolling Stone 24 Mar. 74/1   The record's not great, but the lady's a real talent.
1807   All Talents in Ireland! 10   The general impression upon the public mind, relative to the recent change in administration, seems to be, that the downfall of ‘All the Talents’ was occasioned by the unbending perverseness of my Lord H-w-k..and the deference which Lord G-n-lle paid to Lord H-w-k.
1837   G. W. Cooke Hist. Party III. xviii. 460   The administration, which was ironically designated by its opponents as ‘All the Talents’.
1861   C. Knight Pop. Hist. Eng. VII. xxvi. 463   The ministry of ‘All the Talents’ was accepted without any hesitation on the part of the king.
1895   C. Oman Hist. Eng. xxxviii. 608   The short Fox-Grenville cabinet, which contemporary wits called the ministry of ‘All the Talents’, on account of its broad and comprehensive character.
1897   J. Morley Guicciardini in Crit. Misc. (1908) 4th Ser. 79   Cabinets of all the Talents have sometimes been cabinets of all the blunders.

1807—1977(Hide quotations)


 e. Frequenters of the underworld. Australian slang. Now Obsolete or rare.

1882   Sydney Slang Dict. 8/2   The Forties, the worst types of ‘the talent’ who get up rows in a mob,..and sometimes assault and rob, either in barrooms or the streets.
1928   ‘Brent of Bin Bin’ Up Country x. 151   The elder won by telling his son he could use the Waterfall stallion as a saddle-horse in the off season, and have him for his own in place of Black Belle, on condition that he left the talent of Eagle Hawk Gullies strictly alone.
1953   D. Cusack Southern Steel 31   He'd learn responsibility quicker married than he would knocking about the ports with the rest of the talent.

1882—1953(Hide quotations)


 f. The women of a particular locality collectively (as singular), judged according to attractiveness and sexual promise, esp. as local talent n. (b) at local adj. and n. Compounds. Also applied occasionally to men. slang.

1947   M. Gilbert Close Quarters xii. 175   You can play darts and engage the local talent in gossip.
1950   J. Cleary Just let me Be 115   [He] looked after her, and Harry grinned at him. ‘Not bad, eh?’ he said... ‘That's a bit of the local talent.’
1963   Sunday Times 1 Sept. (Colour Suppl.) 8   You can take a turn on the [sea-]front and see what the talent is like.
1969   J. Fowles French Lieutenant's Woman xxxix. 292   Far duller the customers—the numerically equal male sex, who, stick in hand and ‘weed’ in mouth, eyed the evening's talent.
1972   ‘M. Yorke’ Silent Witness ii. 24   No chance had come her way... ‘Your charms are waning,’ Liz had said dryly. ‘There isn't any talent,’ Sue had answered.

1947—1972(Hide quotations)


 a. The characteristic disposition or aptitude of a person or animal. (Apparently blending 4, 6.) Obsolete.

1670   J. Dryden in J. Dryden & W. Davenant Shakespeare's Tempest Pref. sig. A2   This is certainly the talent of that Nation.
1697   J. Vanbrugh Provok'd Wife ii. 24   Besides 'tis my particular Talent to ridicule folks.
1698   J. Collier Short View Immorality Eng. Stage i. 7   Obscenity in any Company is a rustick uncreditable Talent; but among Women 'tis particularly rude.
1701   J. Swift Disc. Contests Nobles & Commons v. 52   It is the Talent of human Nature to run from one Extream to another.
1740   S. Richardson Pamela I. xxx. 116   Pride is not my Talent.
1774   O. Goldsmith Hist. Earth IV. 159   Its talents are entirely repressed in solitude, and are only brought out by society.

1670—1774(Hide quotations)


 b. The good points or qualities of a horse. ? Obsolete.

1725   R. Bradley Chomel's Dictionaire Œconomique at Horse   If your Horse's Talent be Speed, all that you can do is to wait upon the other Horse, and keep behind till you come almost to the Stand, and then endeavour to give a Loose by him.

1725—1725(Hide quotations)




  talent agency   n. an organization which seeks to place talented amateurs in the world of professional entertainment.

1956   ‘B. Holiday’ & W. Dufty Lady sings Blues viii. 95   Nobody was in a position to push a hotel chain, a broadcasting network, and the talent agency around.
1977   Rolling Stone 24 Mar. 48/5   Christine and a girlfriend/singing partner snuck away from their strict parents in Birmingham and visited every talent agency they could find in London.

1956—1977(Hide quotations)


  talent-hiding   n.

1623   W. Lisle in tr. Ælfric Saxon Treat. Old & New Test. Pref. 7   I thought it a shame, and the great fault also of talent-hiding, to lead all my life in study.

1623—1623(Hide quotations)


  talent money   n. a bonus or gratuity given to a professional athlete, etc. for specially meritorious performance.

1859   Bell's Life in London 14 Aug. 8/2   When the time arrived for drawing the stumps. Both [players]..were loudly cheered during the presentation of the ‘talent’ money.
1896   Ld. Hawke in Westm. Gaz. 25 Nov. 5/3   Whilst they were pleased to congratulate the one who made 100, [or] a bowler who earned talent money.
1896   Daily Chron. 5 May 5/8   Briggs..saw Sugg earn his ‘talent money’ after the latter had been batting fifty minutes.

1859—1896(Hide quotations)


  talent scout   n. = scout n.4 2e.

1936   New Republic 28 Oct. 351/2   Paramount's ‘Big Broadcast of 1937’..(Paramount talent-scouts: there's a joker here somewhere.)
1939   N. Monsarrat This is Schoolroom iii. xvii. 383   He was appraising the women present, as if he were a talent scout who only recognised one talent.
1952   P. G. Wodehouse Pigs have Wings x. 202   I understand that he's always being approached with flattering offers by the talent scouts of Colney Hatch and similar institutions.
1976   A. Powell Infants of Spring x. 170   Lyall worked intermittently as a film actor, consequence of a talent-scout seeing him making faces in a restaurant.

1936—1976(Hide quotations)


  talent-scouting   n.

1934   M. H. Weseen Dict. Amer. Slang 154   Talent scouting,..seeking new actors.

1934—1934(Hide quotations)


  talent show   n. a show or competition consisting of performances by a series of promising entertainers, esp. ones seeking to enter show business professionally.

1955   F. G. Patton Good Morning, Miss Dove 70   She had won a talent show and gone to New York.
1977   Detroit Free Press 11 Dec. 11- b/3   After that he landed parts in the theater productions, ice shows and talent shows.

1955—1977(Hide quotations)


  talent-spot   v. transitive and intransitive.

1937   Boy's Own Paper 2 Nov. 80/2   When talent-spotting, the thing he looked out for in a half-back was the ability to deliver an artistic pass.
1968   ‘D. Torr’ Treason Line 69   He had also to prod her into making the best of her mother's party to talent-spot possible agents.
1979   A. Boyle Climate of Treason x. 324   George Blake, a Royal Navy lieutenant whom he had ‘talent-spotted’ as a possible SIS recruit for counter-espionage work in Germany.

1937—1979(Hide quotations)


  talent-spotter   n. = talent scout n.   above.

1944   Gen. 15 Jan. 27/2   The B.B.C. talent-spotter is touring the Midlands.
1954   I. Murdoch Under Net xiv. 197   I hope that the eye of the talent-spotter has lighted favourably upon you.
1978   L. Meynell Papersnake vii. 88   It's punk..no action, what you keep these lousy talent-spotters for I can't imagine.

1944—1978(Hide quotations)


  talent-spotting   n.

1957   Observer 3 Nov. 9/5   Competitions are an effective method for talent-spotting, an encouragement to architects and a means, sometimes, of acquiring a masterpiece.
1978   J. Pearson Façades iv. 69   Thanks to the talent-spotting skill of Richard Jennings..‘Drowned Suns’ was published in the London Daily Mirror.

1957—1978(Hide quotations)


This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1910; most recently modified version published online September 2021).

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