• crescendo •
kre-sin-do • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A gradual increase in the volume of any sound. 2. A sustained increase in anything else. 3. The point at which a gradual increase reaches it maximum.
Notes: A crescendo should not be a destination. However, most dictionaries have caved and accepted this word as a destination after years of hearing and reading the phrases, 'reach a crescendo' and 'rose to a crescendo'. The plural of crescendo is crescendos.
In Play: Although crescendos should be progressions, they do reach climaxes: "A gradual crescendo in the percussion section reached a climax that woke those in the audience who had dozed off." While originally a musical term, it may now be used anywhere a gradual increase occurs: "Delbert depended on the crescendo of city noises outside his window to wake him up in the morning."
Word History: Today's Good Word, like so many musical terms, was borrowed and never returned to Italian, which inherited it from mother Latin. In Latin it was the dative/ablative case of the gerund of crescere "to grow, increase", based on a reduced form of the PIE word ker-/kor- "to grow". This word became ser "lineage, progeny" in Armenian, koros "saturation, satiety" in Greek, Ceres "goddess of agriculture" in Latin, šerti "to feed" in Lithuanian. The reduced form went into the making of Latin creare "to make, produce"; the past participle of this verb, creatus, was adopted by and adapted to English. The Latin word became criar "to raise, bring up" in Portuguese, the source of cria "offspring, protege", whose diminutive is crioulo "(historically) slave born in the house of its master; (today) creole", which French borrowed as créole, whence English creole. (Now let's all thank Mike Nichols for thinking of us when he discovered today's Good Word, which has wandered off its semantic tracks.)
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