Printable Version
Pronunciation: see-nail Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Related to old age, especially to mental impairment associated with aging. 2. (Geology) Worn away down to the base by erosion.

Notes: Today's word comes with an adverb, senilely, as we might act senilely, and a noun, senility, with the accent on the second syllable: [sê-nil-ê-tee]. Although senile basically means "aged", it is best to be careful using it because of its current pejorative sense. Pity we have decided to look at the negative side of aging, ignoring the evidence that aging causes no brain impairment unless disease is involved.

In Play: Unfortunately, we have to deal with the most common sense of today's Good Word: "Don't expect Noah Zarque to remember anything; he was born senile. I've heard that when Noah and Jerry Attrick get together, they can't converse without finishing each other's sentences." We may, however, use the noun without the pejorative shadow haunting the adjective: "Andy Belham avoids most of the pains of senility by working out at the gym four days a week."

Word History: The Indo-European peoples have long been struggling with the implications of old age. Today's word shows us why. It originates in the unprejudiced Latin adjective senilis "related to old age" from senex, senis "old man". This word comes from PIE root sen- "old", also seen in Sanskirt sanah "old", Old Persian hanata- "old age", and Gaelic sean "old". (This sean is unrelated to Sean as in Sean Connery; Connery's name was borrowed from Norman French Jean.) Today's word refers to a loss of mental acuity. The Roman senate (senatus), however, was originally a council of elders, elected because of their presumed wisdom. So it would seem that our esteem for our senior (there's another one) citizens has slipped considerably over the past two millennia. (Today we thank the far from senile senior citizen William Hupy for his suggestion of today's very Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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