Jeff over at Jeff's Gameblog ran a post a while back about using different descriptors of the 6 basic attribute titles in order to take a fresh look at what these terms mean. I thought this was a pretty cool idea, and have sporadically wasted a lot of time thinking about the topic ever since.
While the 3 "physical" attributes--Str, Dex, Con--don't stand to gain very much from this experiment, the far more ambiguous "mental" abilities--Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma*--could definitely stand a new coat of paint. Or better yet, strip off the paint, then take off the siding, the vapor barrier, and insulation as well so that we can see what the hell kind of frame is holding these things up.
Anyway, after months of frittering, here are my descriptors for the 3 "mental" attributes:
Intelligence = Aptitude
Wisdom = Sense
Charisma = Cool
Aptitude: this is your characters ability to learn effectively, not necessarily his or her smarts. A low aptitude could mean you have a learning disability, but you might very well be the only person on earth smart enough to understand Quantum physics. A high Aptitude means that you are able to quickly glean the essentials of a field of study, but you might not be capable of taking the matter too deeply. You might, for instance, quickly learn new languages, but fail to understand the significance of the differing grammatical structurezzzzz...
Sense: this descriptor is copped directly from a comment from Talysman over at Nine And Thirty Kingdoms.** This has a lot to do with the way I'm redefining clerics in my current campaign: they're more like unaffiliated mystics than deity-bound priests. As such, wisdom measures ones ability to sense the presence of other things including but not limited to that ambush around the bend or the unusual book amidst all the pulp paperbacks on the shelf, but also the presence of water deep underground, the aura of the spy in the Duke's castle, and the spirits that inhabit the trees in your druid's favorite grove.
Cool: Not so much your ability to mimic the Fonz but, rather, Cool measures your capacity to maintain poise and bearing whether you're chatting up a hottie at the tavern, bluffing the Constable into releasing your comrades from custody, or trying to defuse a bomb with time running out.
* Yeah, I know, a lot of old schoolers use Charisma as a measure of physical appeal; fine, I got no beef with that.
** Though I don't believe that my conception of sense here falls in line with what he was describing. Oddly, his recent re-conception of the cleric archetype sounds sort of like what I was failing to get at in my re-conception of the Wisdom attribute as a measure of devotion and mental focus.