Printable Version
Pronunciation: wawn-tên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective (Noun, Verb)

Meaning: 1. Playful, sportive, frolicsome, as 'a wanton kitten in the grass'. 2. Undisciplined, unruly, wild, as 'the errors of wanton youth'. 3. Rich and luxuriant, as 'wanton undergrowth'. 4. Lewd, lascivious, having loose morals.

Notes: Today's Good Word is an ambitious adjective with meanings stretching from "playful" to "lewd". The order of the meanings above reflects an attempt to capture how the semantics of this word has slipped over the years. This word may be used as a noun or verb referring to playful or lewd behavior, but make sure the context is clear when you call your friend an unmitigated wanton or express a desire to wanton in the woods.

In Play: Seldom does a word describe lewd and decent people the way this Good Word does: "He enjoyed living in that house, embraced as it was by wanton shrubbery, watching wanton young rabbits gamboling across the lawn." Unfortunately, the worst of the meanings of this word is crowding out the others today: "Most Hollywood actors avoided the wanton ways of Heidi Fleiss and her friends."

Word History: This Good Word is related to our wants but in the sense of things we lack. It comes from a Middle English compound, wantowen based on wan- "lacking, wanting" + towen, the past participle of teon "to bring up, to discipline"; so, the original sense of this word was "lacking (wanting) up-bringing". The stem wan- comes from a Proto-Indo-European root ewen- "to abandon", which also produced wane and vain, as well as vacate. Teon, the origin of team, which originally referred to a disciplined team of horses, is PIE deuk- "to lead", which also gave us duke. The same root lies behind Latin ducere "to lead", the origin of our (aqua)duct, educate, deduce, conduct, and many more.

Dr. Goodword,

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