Printable Version
Pronunciation: kê-dus-i-dee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Perishability, transitoriness, fallibility, impermanence. 2. Senility, the frailty of old age. 3. (Archaic) Tendency to fall.

Notes: Today's Good Word is the noun for the adjective caducous, whose meaning has narrowed over the years. Today caducous is used mostly in biology to refer to parts of an organism that fall away over the course of development, such as the caducous leaves of deciduous trees or caducous baby teeth. It has been used, however, as a synonym of transitory, and I see no reason why we can't return to that use.

In Play: Today's Good Word is about the impermanence in life and applies itself to things that fall or crumble away: "The recent collapse of the financial markets reminded us of the caducity of even the seemingly permanent things in life." The second meaning refers to human frailty caused by the caducity of life itself: "The burden is doubled for those of us also struggling with the caducity of old age."

Word History: The adjective underlying today's Good Word comes from Latin caducus "falling, dropping" from cadere "to fall or drop". This verb also underlies cadaver for obvious reasons. French inherited Vulgar (street) Latin cadentia "a fall, falling" and lent it to English as cadence. The English word case can also be traced back to this root (cad-). Two senses of the word case have been long associated with falling. Case referring to an event or occasion (in case it rains) is expressed by Fall "fall" in German. Case in the sense of the endings added to nouns and adjectives in languages like Latin and Russian is padezh from padat' "to fall" in Russian. I will leave it to you to wire in the semantic connections.

Dr. Goodword,

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