With apologies to the writers, my favorite line in Barry Frank’s splendid screenplay Get Shorty (based on Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name) comes when Bo Catlett warns the Columbian Yayo that DEA agents will have a bulge at their ankle due to a concealed weapon and asks, “Savvy bulge?” The grammar is a mess, but I love both the efficiency of the question, and the irony that someone who may be unfamiliar with the word bulge would none the less absorb that shorthand use of savvy.

Savvy is smart, but it’s a bit more slippery than its synonyms: Sharp is what you show on a resume, savvy is what you prove when the pressure is on; clear-sighted will help you locate the right spot on the horizon, savvy will help you navigate the path between here and there. I grew up with savvy as an adjective, but I like it even more as a verb, the way Bo Catlett uses it – a substitute for capiche, an abbreviation of Do you understand? Yeah, I savvy bulge. No need to say more.

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