Printable Version
Pronunciation: æb-si-zhên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. The act of cutting something off. 2. The shedding of flowers, leaves, and fruit following the formation of scar tissue (the abscission layer) in a plant stem.

Notes: Picture comingToday's Good Word is the noun of either the verb abscind or abscise, both of which mean "to cut off". The hairdresser may abscind or abscise superfluous hair from your head in an act of design abscission. Do remember to use a double-s in this word. Its cousin, incision, not only gets by with one, it omits the one before C, too.

In Play: Abscission is a rather lovely word, more poetic than fall off: "The ground beneath the dogwood trees appears to be snow-covered after the abscission of all their blossoms." Finding metaphorical situations where it might apply is easy: "Fenwick, I think mutual abscission is the best solution to the problems that have arisen in our relationship."

Word History: This Good Word comes to us from Latin abscissio(n) "breaking off", the noun from the verb abscindere "to break or cut off". The verb is made up of ab "(away) from, off" + the nasalized combining form of caedere "to cut". You are right to suspect that it is related to scissors. It also underlies chisel, borrowed from Old French cisiel, the result of changes to Vulgar Latin cisellus "cutting tool". Cisellus is the diminutive of a Latin noun based on the same combining form of caesus, the past participle of caedere. Caedere is what Latin made from PIE (s)kel-/(s)kol- "to cut". With the Fickle S, we find Icelandic skilnaður "divorce, separation", Lithuanian skilti "to split, crack", Russian skala "crag, cliff", Latin scalpere "to scrape", whence English scalp, and today's word. Latin for some reason didn't like L before some consonants, so it removed not only the Fickle S, but the L, too.

Dr. Goodword,

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