I read a sentence in Word by Word by Kory Stamper which was:

Many people - and many people who think they'd be good at this lexicography gig - believe that the dictionary is some great guardian of the English language, that its job is to set boundaries of decorum around this profligate language like great linguistic housemother setting curfew.

I don't see how the dictionaries' definitions (wastefully extravagant) of the word profligate fit into the context. I want to ask how a language can be extravagant.

  • 1
    Tell us how the definitions you've seen don't fit. Quote them and explain what you do understand about the text, and how you find it impossible to combine the two (the definition of that word and the rest of the text) into a coherent whole. By the way, the text uses figurative language, if that's not clear, so you might want to think in that direction.
    – user3395
    Jul 17, 2019 at 15:38
  • I agree with @userr2684291 and have also voted to close the question. You need to do better than, "So, any help?" You put us in the position where we all go looking at our own dictionaries just to try to answer your question. Please have a look at this question about tick off and this question about pop up to get a better idea of how to ask a question like this on ELL.
    – J.R.
    Jul 17, 2019 at 16:02
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    @kelvin has it occurred to you that by using that word, the author was doing exactly what she is implying that other people (not limited by dictionary definitions) do? Jul 17, 2019 at 16:16

1 Answer 1


It seems to me to be an expressive usage of the word profligate.
Besides the usual meaning of wasteful to be found, Merriam-Webster has

profligate adjective
1 wildly extravagant

and this might be how the author intended the word to be used in the context of an evolving language, when people invent new words, phrases and usage all the time. They are not restricted by – and perhaps don't even care about – the dictionary, and yet it was a dictionary I reached for to answer the question. Maybe Kory Stamper had this in mind when she wrote the sentence.

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