a young person who has a natural ability to do something extremely well
Origin and usage
Prodigy comes from the Latin ‘prodigium’ meaning ‘portent’ and was first used in English in the 15th century.
The most common meaning of prodigy today is the one given in Macmillan Dictionary that refers to a young person of startling ability. The word is used particularly to refer to young musicians who show unusual levels of skill at an early age, like the most famous musical prodigy of them all, Mozart. The most common noun found modifying prodigy is ‘child’; the next most frequent collocate is the adjective ‘musical’, followed by the names of instruments such as ‘violin’, ‘piano’ and ‘keyboard’. ‘Chess’ is another noun that is frequently found modifying prodigy. Less frequently found before prodigy nowadays is the word ‘infant’, even though this along with ‘child’ is the word that most people would probably associate with it most readily. The term prodigy was originally used to refer not to exceptionally gifted children, however, but to seemingly inexplicable natural phenomena, and the words ‘portent‘ and ‘omen‘ are frequently found alongside it today. The related adjective prodigious often precedes the nouns ‘talent’ and ‘intellect’. Prodigious is frequently just used to mean ‘extremely large’, in which case it goes with nouns like ‘appetite’, ‘quantity’ and ‘output’.
“For every child prodigy that you know about, at least 50 potential ones have burned out before you even heard about them.”
“We carry within us the wonders we seek without us: There is all Africa and her prodigies in us.”
(Thomas Browne, Religio Medici)
natural, whizzkid, wunderkind, young gun