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prodigy

Printable Version Pronunciation: prah-dê-jee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A person of exceptional talent. 2. Something extraordinary. 3. An omen, portent.

Notes: Today's Good Word has traveled a long semantic trail and contains evidence of all the stops it made along the way (sense 3. was the original meaning). The adjective, prodigious, carries only the second, now rarely used, sense. It brings with it an adverb, prodigiously, and a regular quality noun, prodigiousness.

In Play: The word is used most frequently these days in the first sense: "Randolph was a child artistic prodigy who developed his gift to become one of the city's most sought-after house painters." The second meaning is there just waiting for us to use it more: "The drug Lance Boyle developed to cure the common cold has been hailed as a prodigy of modern day medical research." Hitting six home runs in a single baseball game would be considered a sports prodigy.

Word History: This word entered English in the late 15th century meaning "sign, portent, omen" from Latin prodigium "omen, portent". This word is made up of pro "fore" + -igi "say" + -um, a noun suffix. Igi is a variant of agi-, an old root of aio "I say, I speak". This makes sense because the original meaning of the word would be "foretell", exactly what omens do. (When combined in a compound, an accented A in words often changes to I: beneficium "benevolent, kind" comes from bene- "good, well" + fac(ere) "do, make".) Moreover, we find the G again in adage from Latin adagium "proverb", ostensibly from ad "to(ward)" + agi- "speak" + -um, the same noun suffix. I'm convinced that agi- is the second constituent of prodigium. (Although not quite prodigious, the suggestion by Jeb Britton III of today's Good Word was magnanimous. We should thank him for it.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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