Printable Version
Pronunciation: de-kê-dênts, dee-kay-dêns Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Decay, rot, a state of deterioration, degeneration, or decline. 2. Self-indulgence, self-gratification, self-pampering.

Notes: Today's is another Good Word coming from one of those adjectives ending on the suffix -ent that is often confused with -ant. The adjective descendent is even spelled differently from the noun descendant if you follow publishing standards. Just remember to spell the ending -ence, and you should have no problem with it.

In Play: We seldom apply this word to fruit or other vegetation any more; it is far more often used metaphorically: "I think the collapse of the financial markets reflects just how decadent our corporate society has become." Since the metaphor usually applies to societies and organizations where self-indulgence is often the cause of decadence, today's Good Word is now associated with self-indulgence itself: "That dessert called 'Chocolate Decadence' is well-named; I feel guilty of decadence when I eat it."

Word History: Today's Good Word is another purloined from French, a language that started out as Latin. French inherited the word from Medieval Latin decadentia "decay, deterioration", a noun derived from the Vulgar (street) Latin verb decadere "to rot, decay". This verb contains the prefix de- "from" + cadere "to fall, die". The ultimate root here, cad-, is visible in a host of English words borrowed from the various Romance (Latin descendent) languages: cadaver, cadence, and cascade are among the most obvious. However, the word for what might befall you, chance, is also a French rendition of Latin cadentia "falling". (We have not fallen into such decadence as to miss our chance to thank Don Andreatta for suggesting today's very Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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