September 18, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: RE: ‘Any Sheep, Any Study’

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To the Editor:

A sun columnist recently used the words “prestige” and “prestigious” in the column “Any Sheep, Any Study.” I agree with the author’s analysis of the meaningless values promoted at Cornell University and the point made in William Deresiewicz’s book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. I am thankful for this and any column that helps students to know themselves and to “emancipate themselves from mental slavery.” As excellent sheep strive to “seek prestige as intellectual fulfillment,” and dismiss “less prestigious dreams,” I want to remind us of the original meaning of the word prestigious. I hope that this reminder helps us to rethink our dreams—since striving for prestigious dreams may derail the search to “know yourself,” the maxim that Apollo gave to the oracle of Delphi and the primary value that underlies a worthwhile education.

The word prestigious can be considered to be a contronym, a word with two opposite meanings. Prestigious comes from the Latin praestigiosus, which means “full of tricks” or “deceitful.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, prestigious was used as a derogatory word until 1901, when its meaning became “Having, showing or conferring prestige or high status; inspiring respect and admiration.” Which meaning of prestigious describes the dreams of Cornell students?

Prof. Randy Wayne, Plant Biology