mid-14c. (c. 1200 as a surname), "intelligence; discretion, foresight; practical wisdom to see what is suitable or profitable;" also one of the four cardinal virtues, "wisdom to see what is virtuous;" from Old French prudence (13c.) and directly from Latin prudentia "a foreseeing, foresight, sagacity, practical judgment," contraction of providentia "foresight" (see providence, which is a doublet). The secondary sense of "knowledge, science" (late 14c.) is preserved in jurisprudence.