• senescent •
Pronunciation: sê-nes-ênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: A more eloquent and delicate way of saying "old" or "aging".
Notes: Senior citizen is the sort of term we come up with when we leave it to journalists and academics to enrich our vocabulary. Today's word expresses the same sentiment much more elegantly. It is the adjective from the verb to senesce which has a noun, senescence. I would rather be senescent than a senior citizen. A synonym of senescence is senectitude, still better than senior citizen.
In Play: J. D. Salinger, writing in 1965 in the New Yorker, distinguished senescence from maturation: "Few of these magnificent, healthy, sometimes remarkably handsome boys will mature. The majority, I give you my heartbreaking opinion, will merely senesce." Most of us would prefer to forget about aging, which works out fine, since forgetfulness is an art that comes with senescence.
Word History: Today's word was borrowed from Latin sensecen(t)s "growing older", the present participle of senescere "to grow old," a variant of senere "to be old". All these forms go back to senex "old, old man", whose root, sen-, can be seen in senior, senile, and senator. (I'll bet you had already guessed the last two were related.) Spanish señor, Portuguese senhor, and Italian signore come from the comparative of the same word, senior "older, elder". (Today we tip our hats to Gene DuBose for launching us on our journey to find this more charming way of expressing and thinking of age.)