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Spendthrift is defined as :

A person who spends money in an extravagant, irresponsible way.

Nevertheless, thrift is:

The quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully.

So, 'spendthrift' literally means
A person who spend thriftily, which completely opposes the OED definition.

How to understand it?

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  • Yes, those words mean those things and it's strange. This is a good example of the way that languages change --- the "thrift" in "spendthrift" is from an old meaning of the word that's fallen out of use elsewhere in English. It meant something like "wealth" or "prosperity" and is related to the still-existing word "thrive". This kind of thing happens in all human languages and sometimes it leaves words in a state like this that doesn't make sense, but that's just the way it is. Feb 10, 2018 at 5:05

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The older meaning of "thrift" was "savings or wealth". A person who is thrifty keeps their savings.

A person who spends their thrift is not being thrifty.

But beware the "etymological fallacy"! The literal meaning of a word is not based on its origin, but on its current use. Don't assume that you can break down a word and always understand it that way.

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