June 3, 2013

Case File #013.06.03: PRODIGAL

The English word prodigal is a descendant of the Latin verb prodigere, meaning “to use up” or “to squander,” though the familial line that connects one to the other is somewhat circuitous. Old French was the first to borrow the Latin, using it as the basis for the noun prodigalité, which meant “wastefulness.” When Old French gave way to Middle French in the mid-fourteenth century, the noun spawned the adjective prodigal, meaning “lavish” or “wasteful,” and in the late fifteenth century, English lifted the adjective directly from the Middle French. But the noun sense of prodigal—that is, “a person who is given to wasteful spending or reckless extravagance”—didn't appear until 1596, when Shakespeare first used it in the second and third acts of his play The Merchant of Venice.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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