Polyglot and polymath are not even distant cousins. Yet, they have two strands in common. First, both have the prefix ‘poly’ as part of their structure. Second, both words allude to learning new skills. If you are a polyglot you have learned more than one language. If you are a polymath you have learned more than one discipline in good measure but you aren’t a specialist in any. Off late, both words are gaining visibility.
Poly is a very versatile prefix: prefix poly to nomial and the resuling word becomes a dense mathematical entity called polynomial; prefix it to bags and the resulting juxtaposition of the words becomes an environmentally incorrect baggage called polybag.
Polymath is slowly shedding the label of being ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ and is becoming more acceptable, even cool. It is now being advocated that a polymath may really be a great asset to an organization or to a business. In fact, Kyle Wein extols the virtue of polymaths in his HBR blog In Defense of Polymath.
Ployglots always had many virtues. Polyglots could mingle with people of different cultures without any inhibition and self consciousness. They could read different literatures with ease. New vistas seemed to open to them with the internalization of new languages. But what is new about polyglots is the growing awareness that they have the ability to ward off Alzheimer’s for four to five years. With increasing longevity of human beings, four to five years of added productive and active life is very crucial. Time.com talks about this interesting phenomena in its article Why speaking more than one language may delay alzheimers.
You could well add weight to your resume by asserting that you are an accomplished polyglot and a polymath.