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Q From A N Page, Maryland: About spendthrift: I have often wondered how thrift applied to spend can end up being someone who is not thrifty. Any suggestions?

A It’s an interesting collision of ideas to us now. That’s because we think of thrift as the state of using one’s money and other resources carefully. But thrift is closely connected with thrive, which comes from an Old Norse word meaning to grasp or seize; this evolved into the idea of achieving prosperity, success and good luck, or of having achieved it, a sense that thrive still has. So thrift was the state of being prosperous. Only later under Puritan influence was thrift seen as frugality, an essential prerequisite for prosperity. The word spendthrift predates this shift in sense. Literally it means somebody who has spent his prosperity, that is, thrown away his accumulated wealth.

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Page created 06 Jan 2001