No, Profligacy Does Not Have Two Cs

There are occasions when you are sure you know how to spell a word, then you encounter a different spelling in print and you can't decide whether the writer is in error or whether you have been getting it wrong all along. That is when it is time to reach for the dictionary.

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This happened to me last week when reading a book review that included this sentence:

She rivals that master of Victorian prolificacy, Anthony Trollope.

I was sure that the correct word was profligacy, but then I began to doubt myself. This was from the Washington Post, after all. Had I been wrong all along? Or was there a different spelling in use in the US, something which happens quite often?

Once I checked my trusty Macquarie, however, I was reassured. Profligacy is indeed the correct and only spelling. Proflicacy isn't an alternative; it's a typo.

The lesson here? If you're not sure, check -- and use an authoritative dictionary, not just a random Google search. Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


Comments

    Actually, I think the reviewer meant that Ruth Rendell is as prolific (produce things abundantly) as Anthony Trollope and not as profligate. Therefore 'prolificacy' is the correct noun in this instance?

    Without the context it could be either prolificacy or profligacy... How are we to know with that small sentence..?

      "There have also been a few volumes of short stories, all of which adds up to more than 60 titles, with hardly a failure among the lot. She rivals that master of Victorian prolificacy, Anthony Trollope."

      Author obviously meant prolificacy, referring to productivity, as opposed to profligacy, meaning extravagance, excess, waste.

      Oxford says it's a word:
      http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/prolific
      "[...] through sheer determination and prolificacy"

    Ah, the sweet injustice of Muphry's Law. Yes, proflicacy is a typo, but (un)fortunately, not a typo in the WashPo article, only a typo in this article.

    The original WashPo article was referring to the prolific nature of Ruth Rendell, not her profligate nature...

    Here is the excerpt from the original article:

    Those mornings have been astoundingly productive. Under her own name, Rendell has produced 50-odd novels, about half of these in the Inspector Wexford series. Writing as Barbara Vine, she has turned out 14 additional novels, of greater length and with even less allegiance to the mystery genre. There have also been a few volumes of short stories, all of which adds up to more than 60 titles, with hardly a failure among the lot. She rivals that master of Victorian prolificacy, Anthony Trollope.

    I think prolificacy is correct in this case - as in "producing a large number of literary works". I don't think profligacy is correct, as in "extravagant".

    The lesson here? If you’re not sure, check — and use an authoritative dictionary, not just a random Google search. Accuracy matters.

    After checking the dictionary definitions of prolificacy and profligacy, I think there's something in this for all of us. On the upside, I've learnt the difference between the two. Oh, if only my profligacy with regards to reading Lifehacker could be matched by my prolificacy for acquiring knowledge. Or something like that.

    Last edited 02/12/14 3:52 pm

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