What are the differences between the words prodigal and spendthrift? They seem to mean the same.
When does one choose to use one over the other?
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Dictionary definitions show that the words are very similar. Especially in the sense that they are using each other to define themselves:
prodigal — adjective
- wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.
- giving or yielding profusely; lavish (usually followed by of or with ): prodigal of smiles; prodigal with money.
- lavishly abundant; profuse: nature's prodigal resources.
prodigal — noun
- a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance; spendthrift.
spendthrift — noun
- a person who spends possessions or money extravagantly or wastefully; prodigal.
spendthrift — adjective
- wastefully extravagant; prodigal.
The only real difference I notice is that "prodigal" can mean having or giving abundance instead of merely spending in abundance. The examples of "prodigal with smiles" and "nature's prodigal resources" wouldn't quite fit properly if you used "spendthrift":
? spendthrift with smiles
? nature's spendthrift resources
Words rarely have the same meaning, because if that occurs one or other drops out of use.
Prodigal connotes wayward or reckless, not being sensible, and with a suggestion of reform (as in the prodigal son) but spendthrift connotes moral worthlessness. Somebody spending (too) lavishly on impressing friends or clients would be prodigal. Somebody blowing the family fortune in a casino would be a spendthrift.