Use this forum to discuss past Good Words.
User avatar
Dr. Goodword
Site Admin
Posts: 4560
Joined: Wed Feb 02, 2005 9:28 am
Location: Lewisburg, PA


Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat May 17, 2008 12:05 am

• prodigal •

Pronunciation: prah-dê-gêl • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Recklessly extravagant, wastefully lavish. 2. Profuse, superabundant.

Notes: Today's Good Word is probably encountered most often in the crystallized phrase prodigal son for reasons provided in the Word History. It is not related to prodigious, which, like prodigy, derives from the Latin word for "portent, omen". The noun accompanying this adjective is prodigality and the adverb, prodigally.

In Play: The most common sense of today's word refers to living outside our means: "Owen Cash lived such a prodigal life after winning the lotto jackpot that he was broke again in five years." (He is spending a lot of time these days with Robin Banks.) However, this word also has a neutral sense referring simply to profuseness: "No one understood the prodigal praise heaped on Will Doolittle at his retirement party."

Word History: This word was borrowed from Middle French prodigal (currently prodigue), the legitimate descendant of late Latin prodigalis "lavish, wasteful". The Latin adjective arose from the verb prodigere "to drive away, to squander", made up of pro(d)- "for, forth, away" + agere "to lead, drive", also the root of agent. The shift in meaning is explained by the parable of the prodigal son in the Book of Luke in the New Testament. The prodigal son took his inheritance while his father was alive, left home and wasted it, only to return impoverished, begging forgiveness. (Today we are grateful to the prodigal mind of Colin Burt for suggesting this Good Word.)
• The Good Dr. Goodword

Perry Lassiter
Grand Panjandrum
Posts: 3207
Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2007 12:41 pm
Location: RUSTON, LA

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sat May 17, 2008 1:52 pm

Connotations are fascinating. Raised going to Sunday School and church, my only association with the word "prodigal" for years was its New Testament use. Encouraged by teachers to guess at meanings from context, I automatically assumed the primary meaning of "prodigal" was similar to "delinquent." I knew the guy wasted the money, but labeling the story as "The Prodigal Son" applied the word (in my mind) to his whole series of rebellious and egocentric acts.
Gradually, I became aware of its use in other contexts and its meaning as described in Word of the Day. Still, the connotation of delinquent is firmly fixed in my mind.It is, of course, the same with many other words.

Grand Panjandrum
Posts: 2114
Joined: Tue Mar 21, 2006 7:51 pm

Postby Bailey » Sat May 17, 2008 7:36 pm

These days the classic meaning of prodigal has it's roots in progeny- mine!

mark gimmee-more Bailey

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Make the most of it...

Jeff hook
Junior Lexiterian
Posts: 73
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2006 5:29 pm
Location: East Orange, NJ, USA


Postby Jeff hook » Sat May 17, 2008 7:41 pm

I appreciate your comments, Perry.

I've noticed that linguists seem to delight in the changes which occur when new connotations and new "shades of meaning" shoulder previous meanings aside. Students of languages often stress that living languages must be expected to change continuously. Change is cited as evidence of the vitality of languages and "language purists" are criticized for their elitism and for their lack of flexibility.

I'm not so sanguine about "sliding meanings." I appreciate Dr. Beard's etymological explanations because they reveal the original meanings of the roots of our present vocabulary. I tend to think that knowledge of etymology can allow us to use our language with greater understanding and with greater accuracy even though I suspect that the very concept of "accuracy" in language may be anathema to many language experts today.

I've noticed what might be called an advocacy of "passive learning" in language instruction. I wonder if my perceptions are correct and if they relate to your comments.

I briefly had some experience of language-teacher training a few years ago. I may have seen the "state of the art" then. I'm sometimes reminded of those ideas when I read print advertisements and when I hear radio ads for foreign-language self-instruction "products." The ads claim that "no boring memorization's needed" and that "language students" will acquire mastery of foreign languages simply by using those languages. Asserting that language is acquired by being used always seems to me to beg the questions of how language is acquired. I'm much more confident about the potential benefit of active learning, which seems to require conscious focus of attention and study, than about passive learning, which I suspect may not often occur, or which may only occur slowly, and incompletely.

Encouraging students to "guess at meaning from context" seems to be a favored language-instruction method now and your remarks suggest the method has been used at least since your childhood. I think advocates of this method would argue that it's active because students are encouraged to "create meaning," but I wonder if it would be better to give students the types of explanations of word meanings which we obtain from Dr. Beard. Students couldn't possibly have this information until it was given to them. You seem to be suggesting that assumptions about the meanings of words and of phrases can sometimes be wide of the mark.

Some students may experience more difficulty than others in learning to read. Allowing those students to focus on their "personal relationship" to printed text by encouraging them to "create meaning in context" might help them to acquire literacy, but, once they are literate, I wonder if it's helpful to continue to allow them to "create their own meaning" by guessing at meaning from context.

I've found that I can gain solid understanding if I actively go out and get information, if I gather the information together, and if I then focus my mind by studying the information which I've obtained. The superb personal computing technology which we're using here seems to facilitate this type of self-study and now that ever-increasing amounts of information are available to us via the World Wide Web I hope that "active learning" and study may supplant reliance on "learning by osmosis."

I'm not sure what you think about how connotations relate to the evolution of languages over time but you seem to have thought about connotations extensively

Jeff Hook
East Orange, NJ, USA

Perry Lassiter
Grand Panjandrum
Posts: 3207
Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2007 12:41 pm
Location: RUSTON, LA


Postby Perry Lassiter » Thu Oct 17, 2013 6:28 pm

Just revisited the site as a result of a reference by Slava. I neglected to add that I was also talk to use a dictionary and look up words. I don't remember anybody telling me how to decide whether to look up a word or guess that its meaning. Probably the natural learning process by definition teaches you to have a wider vocabulary and the ability to know whether your reading is hindered by not knowing the meaning. I do know that in reading foreign languages, often a word that I do not know hampers the entire meaning of the sentence. When I look it up, then I can understand.

Return to “Good Word Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests