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Word for the Wise January 17, 2007 Broadcast Topic: Wanton

We've been flirting for some time with the idea of devoting a program to the term wanton, and we have finally decided to indulge ourselves in that wicked, wicked word. (来源:老牌的英语学习网站 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

When wanton first appeared in English in the 14th century, it meant "undisciplined, ungoverned, unmanageable, rebellious." That sense was a natural outgrowth of its Old English ancestors, wan- meaning "deficient; wrong" plus towen, the past participle of the verb meaning "to draw; train; discipline."

But the undisciplined sense of wanton faded over time, replaced by a series of more specific applications. Over the centuries, wanton has been used to describe a boy "childishly cruel or unruly," an animal "skittish, refractory, or unmanageable," a person "inclined to joking; carefree," or, alternatively, one "given to self-indulgence and the enjoyment of luxury; voluptuous;" and speech or imagination that is "extravagant, impetuous, unrestrained."

While none of those specific applications proved to have staying power, the wildness and lack of control inherent in wanton lives on. The more positive connotations of wanton are those meaning "lewd; bawdy; lustful" or "sensual;" the more negative ones mean "merciless; inhumane;" or "having no just foundation or provocation." Then, there's the somewhat neutral meaning associated with wanton: it can describe something "without check or limitation," as something "luxuriantly rank" or "unduly lavish."

 
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