Prodigy or Protege?
Are you a prodigy or protege? The answer depends on your level of skill and who’s helping with the achievement of that skill.
How do you know if you’re a prodigy or a protege? Sometimes you are fully confident in the meaning of one word until you see a word that looks similar and then it makes you wonder.
A prodigy is a noun that can have several meanings, but the one you’re most likely familiar with is “a highly talented young person.” Typically, we refer to a child who has exceptional abilities as a “child prodigy,” which seems somewhat redundant.
A prodigy, though, can also mean an omen, or something extraordinary or inexplicable. It can also mean “an extraordinary, marvelous, or unusual accomplishment, deed, or event.”
I suppose that when you see a six-year-old sit down at a piano and begin playing a major composition, even if it was written by someone else, that’s a perfect definition. (And that’s especially true for someone like me whose musical ability is limited to being able to play a song on iTunes.)
A protege is a French word and you’ll sometimes see it styled as protégé. The Americanized version tends to drop the accent marks.
The definition of a protege is someone who is “under the patronage, protection or care of someone interested in his or her career or welfare.”
It came into use in the late 18th century from French, literally meaning “protected” as a past participle of protéger, which in turn, derived from the Latin protegere, which meant “cover in front.”
People often think of a protege as a kind of apprentice in the world of business or the arts, where a mentor will share his or her knowledge.
So given the definitions from the two words, the way to know whether you might be a prodigy or protege, in a nutshell, is whether you’re the “brilliant” one or whether you’re under the guidance of a “brilliant” one.
If the genius is you, then you might be a prodigy. But if you’re hoping someone else’s genius will rub off on you as you work under them, you might well be the protege. (If it makes you feel a little better, you can spell it with the accents. At least protégé looks fancier, right?)