Thursday, January 14, 2016

A fall

A fall

The words cadaver, decay, accident, decadent, cascade & deciduous all share a source: the Latin verb cadere, meaning to fall.

I’m hoping your eyes just glanced back over that list of words, causing your brain to experience a satisfying little jolt. Given the opportunity, we can “see” the fall in each of those words.

Cadaver appeared in English in 1500, meaning dead body.

Decay, meaning to decrease, made it into English a few years earlier after a tour through Old French & Anglo-French.

Accident appeared in English in the 1300s, meaning an occurrence or incident. Its Latin root was accidentem, to happen, fall out or fall upon.

Decadent, meaning in a state of decline or decay, showed up in 1837, a back-formation of decadence.

Cascade, a synonym for waterfall, came to English in the 1640s through Italian, then French.

Deciduous, meaning that which falls off, showed up in English in the 1680s straight from Latin.

Next week we’ll take a look at some not-so-obvious descendants of this same root. In the meantime I’m hoping you’ll use the comments section to let me know whether your brain experienced that satisfying little jolt mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED


  1. The only line from Dante that I remember from my Italian course in college is "E cadde come corpo morte cadde". "It falls as a dead body falls" All I know is it's from Canto 5 of the Inferno, and I can't remember the context, but it uses those "cadere" words to great effect. It makes you feel like you're falling into that horrible pit. :-)

  2. Well there's a cheery note. Ha! Thanks for popping by, Anne.

  3. The one that surprised me was deciduous. But, it does make sense, the decaying,cascading and falling of leaves.

  4. Hi Christine -- I love connections like that.

  5. One could wax philosophical about "decadent", but that would require more coffee.

    Is "cadence" showing up next week?

  6. Hey Rachel6 - it's been a while. I hope life's being good to you, & I hope that coffee materializes soon.