Word of the Day

Saturday, February 23, 2019

prodigal

[ prod-i-guhl ]

adjective

wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.

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What is the origin of prodigal?

Prodigal ultimately derives from the Late Latin adjective prōdigālis “wasteful,” from the Latin adjective prōdigus (with the same meaning), a derivative of the verb prōdigere “to drive forth or away; to waste, squander.” Prōdigere is a compound of the preposition and combining form pro, pro- “forth, forward” and agere “to drive (cattle), ride (a horse).” Aristotle in Book IV of the Nicomachean Ethics defines the virtue of liberality (with respect to wealth) as the mean between the opposite vices of prodigality and stinginess, the prodigal man being one who wastes money on self-indulgent pleasures. The most famous case of prodigality is from Luke’s gospel (15:11-32), the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Prodigal entered English in the 15th century.

how is prodigal used?

… Kubrick a planned and prodigal expenditure of resources.

Annette Michelson, "Bodies in Space: Film as 'Carnal Knowledge'," Artforum, February 1969

She feels she can never truly write well because she lacks Lila’s wild, prodigal spirit. Lila, she thinks, “possessed intelligence and didn’t put it to use but, rather, wasted it, like a great lady for whom all the riches in the world are merely a sign of vulgarity.”

Joan Acocella, "Elena Ferrante's New Book: Art Wins," The New Yorker, September 1, 2015
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Friday, February 22, 2019

futilitarian

[ fyoo-til-i-tair-ee-uhn ]

noun

a person who believes that human hopes are vain, and human strivings unjustified.

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What is the origin of futilitarian?

Futilitarian is a humorous blend of futile and utilitarian. The word was coined in scorn for the utilitarian philosophy for the jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806-73). Futilitarian entered English in the 19th century.

how is futilitarian used?

A lot of artists in America tend to be self-deprecating futilitarians, because we’ve grown up in a culture in which art doesn’t matter except, occasionally, as a high-end investment.

Tim Kreider, "When Art Is Dangerous (or Not)," New York Times, January 10, 2015

For it is significant that much of the work of Bierce seems to be that of what he would have called a futilitarian, that he seldom seems able to find a suitable field for his satire, a foeman worthy of such perfect steel as he brings ot he encounter …

Bertha Clark Pope, "Introduction" to The Letters of Ambrose Bierce, 1922
Thursday, February 21, 2019

tabula rasa

[ tab-yuh-luh rah-suh, -zuh, rey- ]

noun

a mind not yet affected by experiences, impressions, etc.

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What is the origin of tabula rasa?

In Latin tabula rasa means “erased tablet, a tablet rubbed clean (of writing).” Tabula has many meanings: “flat board, plank, table, notice board, notice, game board, public document, deed, will.” For schoolchildren the schoolmaster’s command Manum dē tabulā “Hand(s) off the tablet!” meant “Pencils down!” Rasa is the past participle of radere “to scrape, scratch, shave, clip.” The inside surfaces of a folded wooden tablet were raised along the edges and filled with wax for writing. The wax could be erased by smoothing with the blunt end of a stylus (more correctly stilus) or by mild heat. The Latin phrase is a translation of Greek pinakìs ágraphos “tablet with nothing written on it, blank tablet,” from Aristotle’s De Anima (Greek Perì Psychês, “On the Soul): “What it [the mind] thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing tablet (pinakìs) on which nothing is yet actually written (ágraphos).” Tabula rasa entered English in the 16th century.

how is tabula rasa used?

The notion that the brain is a tabula rasa that can be easily transformed by digital technology is, as yet, the stuff of science fiction.

Richard A. Friedman, "The Big Myth About Teenage Anxiety," New York Times, September 7, 2018

The alarm wakes him, and he opens his eyes to a new day. He feels rested, reset, a tabula rasa.

Lisa Genova, Inside the O'Briens, 2015

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