Printable Version
Pronunciation: ahb-sê-les-ênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Becoming obsolete, outdated, or archaic.

Notes: Today's Good Word gives us the opportunity to distinguish something that is beginning to go out of use from something that is long since out of use, the pair obsolescent and obsolete. The noun for today's word is obsolescence.

In Play: Obsolescent and obsolete are often confused. Here is a sentence illustrating the difference between them: "Obstructionists advance obsolescent if not totally obsolete theories to slow down progress as much as possible." Obsolescent words are seldom distinguished from those that are totally obsolete: "I think philoxenia is merely obsolescent, not completely obsolete."

Word History: This word comes from Latin obsolescen(t)s "growing old, wearing out", the present participle of obsolescere "grow old, fall into disuse". Obsolete is a remodeled form of Latin obsoletus "grown old, worn-out", the past participle of the same verb. Obsolescere was constructed from ob "to(wards), against" + sol- "to be accustomed" + -esc- "beginning to" (inchoative suffix). The preposition ob in Latin derived from Proto-Indo-European epi-/opi- "at, by", which became Russian ob "around", German auf "on", and Greek epi "on, over". Solere, we presume, came from some unattested pre-Latin form sol-e-. The root is attested in another Latin word insolere "to be unaccustomed or unused to", the present participle of which is insolen(t)s, which English borrowed as insolent. Otherwise, the trail ends at Latin. (Thanks to Tony Bowden of London for bringing this word up in a discussion of imbue in the Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!