• dwindle •
Pronunciation: dwin-dêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive
Meaning: To gradually decrease in size, number, or importance; wane, wither, become smaller and smaller.
Notes: This word is purely English, so we would expect all its lexical relatives to have English suffixes. The participle dwindling serves as both adjective and noun. We even have rare instances of the personal noun, dwindler, as someone who dwindles in his or her size.
In Play: We are most familiar with this word used with numbers: "The number of cookies is dwindling shockingly fast before the party this weekend." However, it may be used with size, too: "Marjory has dwindled to practically nothing on her new diet." It may also be used in reference to stature: "Jerry Mander was a statesman at the beginning of his career in office, but later dwindled into a demagogue."
Word History: Today's word is the frequentative of Middle English dwinen "to waste away" from Old English dwinan "to shrink". A frequentative verb is one that indicates a repeated action, rather than a continuous one. It is clearly related to Dutch verdwijnen "to disappear". The original root of this word, dheu- "to die", was the same as the root of die, dead, and death in English. Archaic Swedish dåna "swoon, faint" shares the same origin. This word seems to be mainly Germanic, though traces of it appear in some Celtic languages, for example, Old Irish duine and Breton den "man"; could these have developed from the sense of "mortal"? (Let's not allow our gratitude to Eric Berntson ever dwindle for recommending today's Good Word.)