I imagine that, like me, you think prestigious means “honored.” And it does…today. But it started life in a very different place!

Prestigious actually comes from the Latin praestigious, meaning “full of tricks.” Think magician shows and jugglers and sword-swallowers, etc. It’s thought that the Latin word is closely related to praestringere, which means “to blindfold, to dazzle.” Anything that was a trick of the eyes–or which perhaps would make you doubt what you were seeing, it was so spectacular, was called prestigious.

That’s where it began in English too, meaning “practicing illusion or magic, deception.” Up until the 1800s, this was a word that was most often used in a derogatory fashion, much like trick today. And then, by the 1890s, it was actually considered an obsolete word, no longer in use. (Fascinating, isn’t it?)

But around 1913, it was given new life, with all illusory implications removed, just as prestige was as well. The dazzle without the deception, so to speak. Which is what it still means today.

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