Printable Version
Pronunciation: sê-kêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: 1. To die. 2. To give in, to give up, surrender, to yield to an overpowering force. It is used with the preposition to: succumb to something.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes to us surrounded by a family of words we don't hear very often (at least, I don't). It has an adjective, succumbent, as succumbent foe. There is a noun, derived from the adjective, succumbence, as his succumbence to an adversary. These two words are usually replaced by the present participle, succumbing, serving as adjective and noun: a succumbing foe and his succumbing to an adversary.

In Play: Whenever someone gives up on a cause they really don't want to give up on, that is succumbence: "Geraldine and Gerald succumbed to the pressure from their parents for a grandchild, and produced a bouncing baby boy." It is a word often seen in obituaries referring to the ultimate surrender: "Rosetta Stone succumbed last evening after a long bout with hypochondria."

Word History: This word goes back to Latin succumbere "to lie under, to yield". It comprises sub "under" + -cumbere "to lie down", as in accumbere "to lie down". The shift of B to C is the result of 'assimilation', the shift of one consonant to the pronunciation of an adjacent consonant. Since the B is adjacent to a C, it becomes a C itself. The root of this word also appears without the M, in cubicle. This word came to us via French from Latin cubiculum "bedroom" from cubare "to lie down". This word died out in the 16th century but was revived in the 19th with the sense of "dormitory room". Since then its meaning has slid to indicate any confined space. (We are happy that Kathleen McCune succumbed to the urge to suggest today's Good Word all the way from Norway.)

Dr. Goodword,

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