• 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.)