Printable Version
Pronunciation: spen-thrift Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A financial wastrel, a person who wastes money, spends money prodigiously and wastefully.

Notes: Today's Good Word seems to be an oxymoron comprising a contradiction of terms. How can you be thrifty and spend, too? Today's Word History explains. In the meantime, you may use the adjective, spendthrifty, and either noun, spendthriftiness or spendthriftism, even though you don't hear these derivations very often.

In Play: Drawing the line between generosity and spendthriftiness can be difficult: "Owen Cash is such a spendthrift, he took Alison out to a $500 dinner!" More commonly, though, that line is clear: "M. T. Banks ran through all his inheritance like a spendthrift on a mission."

Word History: How did two such oxymoronic words as spend and thrift manage to join up in a word meaning "a financial wastrel"? This word first appeared in print in the first decade of the 17th century. At that time the meaning of thrift was "savings, net worth, wealth", a meaning still alive today in the phrase thrift institutions (savings and loan associations). Someone who spends that kind of thrift for no good reason foolishly risks his or her future, hence the pejorative connotation of spendthrift. Thrift was originally the noun of the verb thrive, as gift is a noun from give. Like gift, the meaning of thrift floated away from the meaning of the verb it was historically derived from. (Today we must thank Gary Parnham of Boston for spending the time it took to add to our lexical thrift by suggesting today's odd little word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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