Prescient

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Dr. Goodword
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Prescient

Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Apr 14, 2021 7:16 pm

• prescient •


Pronunciation: pre-shênt (US), pre-si-ênt (UK) • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Foreseeing, possessing foreknowledge, cognizant of the future

Notes: Back before science acquired its current meaning, it meant "knowledge, cognizance", and was more closely related to today's word. The noun from this adjective is prescience and the adverb, presciently.

In Play: Prescient is quite topical today: "Had the DC constabulary been a little more prescient of the events of January 6, 2020, those events would have been less appalling." Around the house or on the job, this word is quite useful every day: "Anita Job's very name was prescient of her future at the company."

Word History: Today's Good Word has been in French since Old French. It came from Latin prescien(t)s "foreseeing", the present participle of prescire "to foresee, foreknow", made up of pre- "before" + scire "to know". Latin scire seems to have come from PIE skei- "to cut, split". The sense must have migrated from "split, separate (the real from the false)" to "discern" and from there to "know". It landed in Old English as scitan "to defecate". I'll leave it to you to figure out what that word is today. Skive "to pare, cut in thin layers" was borrowed from an Old Norwegian (Viking) word of the same PIE source. Schism and skizo- were borrowed from Greek derivations from skizein "to split". (Today's fascinating Good Word was another recommended by Patricia Castellanos, our long-time friend and French and English translator in Montevideo, Uruguay.)
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George Kovac
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Re: Prescient

Postby George Kovac » Wed Apr 14, 2021 11:14 pm

Perhaps the most famous example of prescience is Cassandra.

She is sometimes evoked to dismiss someone (e.g., that fellow employee who does not endorse every rosy corporate prediction) as a “Cassandra” for being too pessimistic (sort of the opposite of being a Pollyanna). But that is only half the story. Cassandra could foretell the future. Her curse was not to be believed—but Cassandra’s dire predictions, while unwelcome, were always true.

How Cassandra got into her predicament is an intriguing tale: pressured into an inappropriate sexual proposal from her boss (who was married), which she initially accepted but later retracted; a promotion she already received as a gift which he could not take back; a retaliatory curse; a woman’s life ruined, a boss who (other than a little humiliation) got off scot-free and continued to act like he was god. There is a lot of material there to reboot Cassandra’s story as a contemporary novel with a mix of feminist and anti-feminist themes. Aeschylus was indeed a prescient playwright.
"The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words." Colum McCann, But Always Meeting Ourselves, NYT 6/15/09


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