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degringolade

Printable Version Pronunciation: de-græng-gê-lahd Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: No, we aren't talking about drink made from some tropical fruit called a degringol today, nor does this word come from a Spanish slur pertaining to Americans. A degringolade is simply a rapid deterioration, a sudden decline in condition, or a sudden downfall.

Notes: The most interesting aspect of this word is its history (for which see Word History). Its pronunciation gives away the fact that it has not yet been fully integrated into the English language for it retains the French accent on the final syllable. Still and all, it may be used as a verb as well as a noun: "In 1929 the stock market degringoladed as never before."

In Play: Anything that can deteriorate can degringolade (deteriorate rapidly): "After picking his nose several times at the Thanksgiving table of Rosalind's parents, Mortimer's relationship with her slid into a precipitous degringolade." Unfortunately, too many aspects of our lives are subject to degringolade: "The degringolade of Enron took the business world by surprise."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the noun from the French verb dégringoler "to tumble down" from Middle French desgringueler, made up of des- "from" + Middle French gringueler "to tumble". The French root was taken from the Middle Dutch verb crinkelen "to make curl", which was based on crinc or cring "ring, circle". This word is akin to English crinkle and crank. Today's word is a wonderful example of semantic drift: from a circular motion to tumbling to falling downward, a sense commonly associated with deterioration. (To prevent a degringolade in our relations with our old friend, M. Henri Day, let us take this opportunity to thank him for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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