That's What They Say
10:30 am
Fri April 25, 2014

Why a "spendthrift" isn't thrifty

Spendthrifts are more spendy than thrifty, so the word spendthrift doesn’t seem to make much sense.

This week on That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss the seemingly oxymoronic word spendthrift.

While thrifty refers to being economical with money, spendthrift means the exact opposite—someone who spends money irresponsibly. Curzan explores the etymology of thrifty to get to the bottom of spendthrift.

Thrifty comes from the word thrive, meaning ‘to prosper,’” Curzan explains. “Starting in the 16th century, it also means that someone is thrifty, or frugal.”

However, it is the noun thrift, not the adjective thrifty, which led to spendthrift. Thrift can refer to someone’s earnings, which makes a spendthrift someone who spends his or her income.

When looking up spendthrift, Curzan also found the synonym dingthrift.

“The ding in dingthrift is the same ding we have now, for example, if someone dings your car,” Curzan describes. While the word appears to be obsolete, Curzan hopes Michigan Radio listeners can bring it back.

Will you add dingthrift to your vocabulary? What out-of-date words do you want to resurrect? Let us know by writing a comment below.

-Clare Toeniskoetter, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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