The Joy of Language Learning

Story of the Prolific Proletarian

The Proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

Karl Marx, Political Theorist and Socialist Revolutionary

The above quote appears in The Communist Manifesto authored by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels. The document is considered to be one of the most influential political documents ever written. It also brought into limelight the word ‘Proletarian’, meaning the working class. But the this word has its root in a similar word that was used in ancient Rome.

Image Credit: Shourav Seikh

During the glory days of the Roman Empire,  the lowest class of citizens did not hold any property. They were tasked to serve the state primarily by having and raising children. A citizen of this class was called proletarious, derived from the Latin term proles meaning offspring or progeny. Thus, the word became proletarian in English which earlier carried the connotation of vulgar or cheap. Now, it means relating to the working class and the people of the working class or those who were dependent on daily labour came to be known as proletariats.

Cristiano Ronaldo, a prolific goal scorer.
Image Credit: Gunther-Simmermacher

Interestingly, the word prolific has similar roots. It has been derived from French prolifique, which is in turn derived from Latin root proles and facere (to make). While the literal meaning so formed is to make offspring, in modern use it refers to producing something (fruit or offspring, for instance) in abundance. If someone is a prolific author, it means he or she produces/makes many literary works and a prolific goal scorer is one who scores a lot of goals.

A similar sense is conveyed by another derivation of the root, proliferate. It means to multiply or grow fast. So when something along the lines of ‘Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was discussed in the meeting.’, it means that the discussion focused upon the rapid production and increase in the number of such weapons.

Do try the exercises ahead after a quick look at the table below.

Table Summary:

Proletariatworking-class people regarded collectively (often used with reference to Marxism)
Proletarianrelating to the proletariat or working class
ProlificProducing a lot of something (fruit, offspring, works of art, etc.)
ProliferateRapidly increase or multiply

Welcome to your A Proletarian Quiz

What does "proletarian" mean in the given excerpt?


What does "proliferate" mean in the given headline?


What does "prolific" mean in the given headline?


By implication, class conflict is primarily a struggle between the rich and the [proletariat]. The bracketed word means:

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