1

Let me describe the situation where I want to use this word or phrase:

I was reading a particularly interesting book that I happened upon somewhere deep inside my university library. The book had a memorable epigraph. Unfortunately, I didn't have the presence of mind to take a photograph of the epigraph or write it down. I no longer remember the name of the book, and I have to find contentment in knowing I may never see it again.

Is "presence of mind" the right phrase? Perhaps I didn't have my "wits about me"? I wasn't quick thinking enough? Or something else?

I really want to capture the idea that I was engrossed in reading the book and wasn't really thinking about preserving the memory.

  • 1
    Single-word options include extemporaneous and impromptu. Extemporaneous, in particular has connotations of mental agility because it is connected with extemporaneous debate. – Sven Yargs May 8 '15 at 5:47
  • 1
    Your title and post ask for two different things. Do you want a phrase for the ability to think quickly or the lack of said ability? – Tushar Raj May 8 '15 at 7:44
  • Another context of the OP is "present-mindedness." – user98990 May 8 '15 at 7:53
  • @Area51DetectiveFiction It seems that he wants a phrase for the ability, so that he can say he didn't have it. – Barmar May 8 '15 at 15:40
  • @Area51DetectiveFiction Yes. I could negate one into the other, so I suppose both may work. – quiet May 8 '15 at 15:41
2

On the spur of the moment is a common expression used to say that a decision or an action is made suddenly, without thinking too much about it, but

I understand that the idea you want to express is that you forgot to take a picture because you were too absorbed in reading, so you could say:

  • slip one's mind - pass out of one's memory

The Free Dictionary

2

Very simple word, but it fits your requirements quite well: alert

Merriam-Webster

able to think clearly and to notice things

watchful and prompt to meet danger or emergency

quick to perceive and act

Or, since you need a noun for your sentence: alertness

Merriam-Webster

the state of being constantly attentive and responsive to signs of opportunity, activity, or danger

Using this, your sentence becomes:

Unfortunately, I didn't have the alertness to take a photograph of the epigraph or write it down.

  • have the alertness sounds awkward to me, I'd say wasn't alert enough. – Barmar May 8 '15 at 15:40
1

Your title and post ask for two different things. Do you want a phrase for the ability to think quickly or the lack of said ability?

Thinking on your feet qualifies for the first one, I think, though I doubt it's used in negative sentences.

From oxford:

React to events decisively, effectively, and without prior thought.

0

Try this:

Unfortunately, I didn't have the forethought to take a photograph of the epigraph or write it down for later use. (M-W)

0

As far as a single word request for "quick thinking in the moment,"

IMPROMPTU adjective:

1. Prompted by the occasion rather than being planned in advance: an impromptu party.

2. Spoken, performed, done, or composed with little or no preparation. (Collins)

Extemporaneous vs Impromptu

Whereas “extemporaneous” can be rendered as "prepared in advance and carried out with few or no notes," “impromptu” means "totally unprepared, performed on the spur of the moment," a distinction that often goes unrecognized. See TFD impromptu

  • The first definition in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) for extemporaneous, however, has two dissimilar parts: "a : composed, performed, or uttered on the spur of the moment: IMPROMPTU b : carefully prepared but delivered without notes or text." So depending on which sense of extemporaneous a person has in mind, the word can imply exactly the distinction you describe in your answer, or it can be functionally interchangeable with impromptu. – Sven Yargs May 8 '15 at 7:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.