Let Us Examine the Word “Prolific”

Proli- comes from the Latin proles meaning offspring and –fic derives from facere, to make. Hence prolific = offspring-making.

(Proles is also part of the word proletarian, which literally means “concerning offspring.” The citizens of the lowest class in ancient Rome were propertyless people, exempted from taxes and military service, who served the state only by having children.)

As to the use of “prolific”:

  • Common use: Dickens was a prolific writer, etc.
  • Uncommon use: The Life and Times of Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s most prolific hangman.

Considering Pierrepoint’s unusually abundant works, the use of the word in this case is entirely proper. It is believed that Pierrepoint executed at least 433 men and 17 women, including “Lord Haw Haw” and some 200 Nazi war criminals. A figure of 608 people was given in the credits at the end of the film Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman, although no source for this information was indicated.

The appropriateness of the word “prolific” is not reduced in any way by a significant observation in his autobiography, Executioner: Pierrepoint, published in 1974: “I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge, which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people.”

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5 responses to “Let Us Examine the Word “Prolific”

  1. Horace Krever

    It can’t be said that this blog is “prolix” (actually, unrelated).

    • You are right.

      prolix Look up prolix at Dictionary.com
      early 15c., from O.Fr. prolixe (14c.), from L. prolixus “extended,” lit. “poured out,” from pro- “forth” + base of liquere “to flow” (see liquid).

  2. Elisabeth Ecker

    I agree with you. We even have far too may people in jails. Jails are not a deterrent, but a great training ground for criminals. They are also very expensive. The money would much better spent on prevention and alleviation of child poverty which would be a better prevention of crime.

  3. The trouble with trying to reduce crime by early childhood interventions is that the cause and effect are too far apart, in the sense that though one is morally certain of the link, one cannot quantify it, and in the sense that one has to spend today for results in 15 years, when none of the ministers who have to approve the spending will be around to take the credit.

    OTOH one can build a prison within one electoral mandate. so it is worth trying to get the mandate to build it. Whether it works or not will not be demonstrated before the election.

    Thus crime proliferates (derivation, Professor Koch? I try to connect this discussion to your topic … ) or even falls, but without obvious connection to anti-poverty measures in either direction.

    • Fr. proliferation, from prolifere “producing offspring,” from L. proles “offspring” (see prolific) + ferre “to bear” (see infer). Meaning “enlargement, extension, increase” is from 1920; especially of nuclear weapons (1966).