generate a large number of offspring, fruits or products
intellectually inventive and fruitful; producing many ideas or creating many things
language is not a static academic entity that sits idly in musty old textbooks. instead, it is constantly changing, with new words and definitions being born all the time as speakers adapt to changes in society. English speakers, in particular, are extremely productive, creating words at a rate that makes it difficult for lexicographers to keep up. Think of all the new words that have appeared in the last few years: “emoji”, “fleek”, “jeggings” and many others have jumped out of the mind and firmly stuck in popular culture and on scrabble boards. And not that this is anything new: remember words invented just a few decades ago like “mod,” “psyche,” and “spaz”? Renewing their lexicon every half decade or so, English speakers prove to be one of the best examples of what it means to be prolific.
prolific is an adjective that can be understood in terms of two intertwined meanings, one literal and one figurative. literally, to be prolific is to create a lot of products, and we mean a lot. a classic example is a pair of bunnies kept together for more than, say, five minutes: blink a few times, and suddenly these prolific lagomorphs are surrounded by a zillion bunnies. this example is especially apt because it touches on the particular relation of the word to the production of offspring. prolific frequently describes things, especially plants and animals, that produce many children, fruits, or other progeny. In general, however, to call something prolific is to say that it produces many things, regardless of the type of those things. that means you could have a prolific car factory (if he makes a lot of cars), a prolific basketball player (if he makes a lot of shots), etc.
but prolific can also be used metaphorically to describe people who do many things for intellectual, artistic, or other purposes besides the propagation of existence. when used in this sense, the word frequently implies that a person has an active and highly creative mind. These types of prolific people are known for generating many ideas or solutions and often bringing them to life. this makes it a great word to describe especially productive artists and thinkers: a prolific artist, for example, would complete a large number of works, and a prolific scientist might have a reputation for making many discoveries. however, as with the literal meaning, to be prolific, a person has to produce in abundance, at least in relative terms. Product quality doesn’t play a role: You might love the depth and imagery of your favorite writer’s books, but if she only wrote one every ten years, she wouldn’t be prolific.
We’ll leave you with one more variation of prolific which, while useful, is somewhat dated and not heard much in modern conversation. in this case, the word indicates that something causes or is a site for multiplication and growth to occur, or that something is found frequently and in large numbers. a prolific zoo, then, would encourage a great deal of breeding among its animals, and a prolific rainy season might cause abundant plant growth. You may have noticed that this is a fairly subtle extension of the other meanings of the word, and it’s true that the lines that distinguish them can get a bit blurry. still, since the creation of new life is involved, it makes sense that prolific could be used in these situations.
example: a prolific colony of ants had begun to take over a corner of the backyard.
example: the prolific chimney spewed cloud after cloud of exhaust.
example: It seemed like we heard a new song every month from the prolific singer.
example: elon musk is a prolific entrepreneur who brings a wide range of innovative products to market.
example: The garden is most prolific in late summer, when large quantities of fresh vegetables abound.
Bring out the linguist in you! what is your own interpretation of prolific? did you use prolific in a game? provide an example sentence or literary quote.