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descent

[ dih-sent ]
/ dɪˈsɛnt /
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noun

OTHER WORDS FOR descent

1 falling, sinking; fall, drop.
6 assault, foray; raid, incursion, sneak attack.
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Origin of descent

First recorded in1300–50; Middle English, from Anglo-French, Old French descente, derivative of descendre “to come down,” modeled on such pairs as vente, vendre; see origin at descend

historical usage of descent

Descent has been in the English language since the 14th century. The French word from which it descends, descendre, ultimately comes from a Latin term whose literal meaning is “to climb” (scandre) “down” (de-).
Though the word descent has been around for over half a millennium, some of its early senses are still in use. In the 1330s one use of descent described familial ancestry. Darwin popularized and expanded this term in Victorian England with his study of the origins of humans and our simian relatives from a common ancestor. This sense is very familiar to speakers of current English who have studied natural history. We also often hear descent in the context of ancestry such as “African descent” or “Scandinavian descent.” Another early use describes an object moving from a higher position to a lower position. Today, we still use this sense when talking about the downward movement of an airplane as it prepares to land. In religious contexts, one might hear about the Descent of Christ into Hell, a sense first appropriated in the 19th century.
Be careful not to confuse descent with decent. While it’s easy to leave out just one “s,” people are sure to express dissent (another word not to be confused with descent ) with your diction.

popular references for descent


—Descent from the Cross: A biblical scene popularly depicted in art, of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus removing Christ from the cross after being crucified.
The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex: Charles Darwin's book on evolutionary theory, first published in 1871.
—“The Descent”: A brief lyric poem by William Carlos Williams, first published in 1948.
The Descent: A science-fiction novel by Jeff Long, published in 1999.
The Descent: A British horror film, released in 2005 (with no relation to the novel of the same name).

OTHER WORDS FROM descent

pre·de·scent, nounre·de·scent, noun

WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH descent

decent, descent , dissent

Quotations related to descent

  • "I lay awake awhile, watching the ascent of the sparks through the firs, and sometimes their descent in half-extinguished cinders on my blanket. "
    -Henry David Thoreau The Maine Woods (1864)
  • "Under our feet there opened a horrible well. My uncle was so delighted that he actually clapped his hands—as he saw how steep and sharp was the descent. "
    -Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth (1872)
  • "Everywhere we look we see brutality, stupidity, until it seems that there is nothing else to be seen but that—a descent into barbarism, everywhere, which we are unable to check. "
    -Doris May Lessing Prisons We Choose to Live Inside (1986)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

DESCENT VS. DISSENT VS. DECENT

What’s the difference between descent, dissent, and decent?

Descent is a noun that means the act of moving downward (descending), a downward movement, or downward movement in general. Dissent can be a noun meaning disagreement, as in I voiced my dissent, or a verb meaning to disagree, as in The judge is expected to dissent. Decent is an adjective that means adequate or suitable, as in a decent meal, or good or respectable, as in a decent person.

Descent and dissent are pronounced exactly the same. Perhaps the best way to remember the difference between them is to think about what related words mean and how they’re spelled. Words related to descent involve movement and are spelled with sc, including descend, ascent, ascension, and transcend. Words related to dissent involve agreement or disagreement and end with -sent, including assent and consent.

Despite their similar spelling, descent and decent are pronounced differently. In descent, the emphasis is on the -scent part of the word, with the first part pronounced like dih. In decent, the emphasis is on the first part of the word, which is pronounced like dee.

So how can you remember which one gets the s? Dropping the s is the decent thing to do, but you should pick it back up for your descent. (And if you dissent, pick up two s’s).

Here’s an example of descent, dissent, and decent used correctly in a sentence.

Example: There was dissent among the climbers about when they should make the descent, but they decided to do it while the weather was still decent.

Quiz yourself on descent vs. dissent!

Should descent, dissent, or decent be used in the following sentence?

The plane’s rapid _____ was caused by a faulty engine.

How to use descent in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for descent

descent
/ (dɪˈsɛnt) /

noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for descent

descent
[ dĭ-sĕnt ]

n.
The process of descending or falling down from a higher position.
The passage of the presenting part of the fetus into and through the birth canal.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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