But genius has become a term used in everyday life to describe everything from hot-housed children to footballers, pop stars and celebrity chefs.
Now a panel of judges in the Court of Appeal is to be asked to grapple with the meaning of the word in the case of a multimillionaire husband seeking a bigger slice of the wealth he once shared with his wife in a divorce settlement.
Randy Work, an American financier, is seek to overturn as order at the High Court last year awarding his estranged wife, Mandy Gray, half of a fortune, totalling more than £140 million.
His lawyers argue that his performance as an investor was so stellar that the usual principle of dividing assets half and half indivorce settlements should be put aside.
They argue that he was not left with a fair cash share following a divorce battle with his unfaithful wife because his “special contribution” to their fortune had not been recognised.
The court heard last year how, during a stint in Japan working for a US private equity firm, he had earned $7 billion for his employer, taking home a multimillion income himself.
Under the Matrimonial Causes Act the usual principle of equal division can be permitted if it would be unfair to disregard the conduct of one party to the marriage.
Last year Mr Justice Holman rejected the argument, concluding that Mr Work’s contributions to wealth creation were not “wholly exceptional”.
Referring to the use of the use of the word ‘genius’ in court to describe Mr Work’s investment skills, the judge remarked: “I personally find that a difficult, and perhaps unhelpful, word in this context.
“To my mind, the word ‘genius’ tends to be over-used and is properly reserved for Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein, and others like them.”
But Mr Work, who says his share should be nearer two-thirds, is preparing to take his case to the Court of Appeal after his lawyers complained that Mr Justice Holman had been wrong not to give credit for a special contribution.
Allowing the appeal to go ahead Lady Justice King said that Mr Work’s lawyers had argued that Mr Justice Holman had appeared to have accepted that “genius” was a prerequisite for a finding of special contribution.
Appeal judges are now expected to consider the case at a hearing in London in February.
At one point during last year’s hearing Mr Justice Holman told Mr Work: “I am not sure you and I are on the same planet”.
Mr Work had argued that his wife was only entitled to £5 million from their fortune because, he said, she had failed to abide by a Texan post-nuptial agreement.
Throughout the case the judge urged the couple to settle their differences, telling them there was “plenty of money to go round” adding: “People who are struggling to afford two-bedroom houses have difficulties.”
The couple began living together in 1992 and married in 1995 in California. They separated in 2013 and have two teenage children.