Word of the Day : March 3, 2011


noun dih-KLEN-shun


1 a : noun, adjective, or pronoun inflection especially in some prescribed order of the forms

b : a class of nouns or adjectives having the same type of inflectional forms

2 : a falling off or away : deterioration

3 : descent, slope

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 this sense has remained quite rare.


The most common declension in modern English is the set of nouns that form their plurals with a simple -s.

"We eat local, buy organic, and support small farms. Some of us even forage and hunt…. This trend appears to be a unique response to a declension narrative that goes something like this: Americans once lived on small farms, ate locally-produced food, did not poison the soil with chemicals, and always knew from whence their food came. Then industrialization and urbanization hit…. We lost our culinary innocence, fell from grace, and got fat." -- From a New York Times blog post by James McWilliams, March 9, 2010

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