Printable Version
Pronunciation: ri-si-dê-viz-êm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (No plural)

Meaning: 1. Repeated relapse, as into crime. 2. The chronic tendency to repeat criminal or antisocial acts.

Notes: This word has a large lexical family, including three adjectives, recidivist, recidivistic, and recidivous. The verb, recidivate "to backslide; to relapse, reoffend", provides a new noun, recidivation.

In Play: This word is most often used in reference to crime: "The warden found that allowing conjugal visits in her prison only increased recidivism." However, the history of this word (see below) only implied the sense of "repeated relapse to something bad": "Recidivist truant students tend to drop out of school."

Word History: This Good Word was taken from French récidivisme "relapse", created from Latin recidivus "falling back", the noun from recidere "to fall back". This verb is made up of re- "back" + the combining form of cadere "to fall, die". We see it in English borrowings from Latin and Latinate languages, such as cadaver, cadence, cascade, and decay from Old French decair "to decay", inherited from Vulgar (Street) Latin decadere "to decay". We would not expect to find case among the derivatives of cadere "to fall", but somehow noun and adjective declensions (nominal case, accusative case, etc.) were at one time seen as "fallings", for the Russian word for "case" in this sense is padezh, from padat' "to fall".

Dr. Goodword,

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