Is Wayne Gretzky a Genius?

Wayne Gretzky, seen here with a fellow genius. - Stephen Lovekin

I debated my co-worker about the definition of the word "genius," and now I'm turning it over to you.

Recently, my co-worker Donald and I have been discussing the concept of "geniuses."

First, Donald asked me who I thought the greatest genius in history was. I answered that it was probably either Einstein or Newton, and that I would have to really think about it to give a definite answer.

Then he asked me for my definition of a genius, and I replied that I thought it involved some combination of both mental power and creativity. Someone with a lot of mental power that doesn't work on NEW ideas doesn't really seem like a genius, to me (an example of this would be a a guy who memorizes a ton of the digits of pi or something - that's definitely impressive but it isn't creative at all) and someone who is innovative but doesn't have the brains to do anything with his ideas also isn't a genius (he could just be a drunk dude at a bar coming up with awesome movie ideas but not going any further than that).

And then Donald started to call all sorts of people "geniuses" and our conversation turned into a fight.

Donald thinks that Wayne Gretzky is a "genius." I think that is a total misuse of the term.

Donald argued that since so much of what made Gretzky great involved his hockey IQ and his brain, rather than brute force, it's fair to call him a "hockey genius." First I took issue with altering the definition of the word "genius" by attaching other words in front of it (by that logic you can blogging geniuses and farting geniuses and even baby geniuses!) and second I contended that when people say that someone is a "genius" it's generally understood to refer to someone with immense talent in a field that is predominantly mental, which certainly disqualifies hockey and other athletic activities.

(At this point Donald argued that since your body is controlled by your brain that means hockey and all sports are predominantly mental activities, and I got pretty mad at him for that bullshit.)

We looked up the definition of the word. Here are the relevant definitions from dictionary.com:

1. Exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.
2. A person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect: "musical genius".

This definition only bolstered Donald's confidence in his position, as he felt that it meant that having any great "natural ability" means you are a genius. I don't think this is a good definition of the term genius, since it would mean that Mike Tyson was a genius since he was naturally great at punching people.

(For the record, I think it's fair to say that "Mike Tyson had a genius for punching" or "Wayne Gretzky had a genius for hockey" since that's a slightly different use of the word. I don't think that's the best way to phrase either of those things, but that's acceptable. Calling Mike Tyson a genius because he was a great puncher is NOT okay.)

The argument continued and dissolved into dueling accusations of dumbness, and I ended up feeling like Louis C.K. ("Some words mean one thing, and other words mean other things!"). So I'm washing my hands of this whole stupid discussion and turning it over to you, our loyal readers with nothing better to do.

Please vote in the poll and explain your reasoning in the comments below.

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