Saturday, December 03, 2005

Today's Unrelated Words

My wife has just asked me if "prodigy" and "prodigal" are related words.

I think that she's reading in Luke 15:11-32 about the prodigial son.

Hang on . . . that's not right. Prodigious son? Hmmm . . . the story did have its ominous moments. Prestidigital son? Well, he did make his money disappear.

Oh wait, there it is up there: prodigal. Prodigal son.

Anyway, so are these related? I thought not but wanted to check.

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, "prodigal" has the following etymology:
c.1450, back-formation from prodigiality (1340), from O.Fr. prodigalite (13c.), from L.L. prodigalitatem (nom. prodigalitas) "wastefulness," from L. prodigus "wasteful," from prodigere "drive away, waste," from pro- "forth" + agere "to drive" (see act). First ref. is to prodigial son, from Vulgate L. filius prodigus (Luke xv.11-32).
The same dictionary provides "prodigy" with this etymology:
1494, "sign, portent, something extraordinary from which omens are drawn," from L. prodigium "sign, omen, portent, prodigy," from pro- "forth" + -igium, a suffix or word of unknown origin, perhaps from *agi-, root of aio "I say" (see adage). Meaning "child with exceptional abilities" first recorded 1658.
So . . . they're not related, it appears. But it also appears that no one knows the ultimate origin of that word "prodigy" despite its frequent use for describing those upon whom God, with prodigal hand, has bestowed great talents. Couldn't one of those prodigies with a genius for languages puzzle this one out? Ah, but it's said that prodigies often waste their talents in riotous living . . .


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