Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
April 5th, 2016
Episode 495 of 765 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 5, 2016 is: declension \dih-KLEN-shun\ noun 1 : the inflectional forms of a noun, pronoun, or adjective 2 : a falling off or away : deterioration 3 : descent, slope Examples: The most common declension in modern English is the set of plural nouns marked as plural with a simple "-s." "You jump in and begin seeing and hearing simple words in the foreign language and start translating, learning nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech without memorizing declensions and without tears." — Reid Kanaley, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 May 2016 Did you know? Declension came into English (via Middle French) in the first half of the 15th century, originating in the Latin verb declinare, meaning "to inflect" or "to turn aside." The word seems to have whiled away its time in the narrow field of grammar until Shakespeare put a new sense of the word in his play Richard III in 1593: "A beauty-waning and distressed widow / … Seduc'd the pitch and height of his degree / To base declension and loath'd bigamy." This "deterioration" sense led within a few decades to the newest sense of the word still in common use, "descent" or "slope." The 19th century saw still another new sense of the word—meaning "a courteous refusal"—but that sense has remained quite rare.