Thursday, September 15, 2016

Language of Confusion: -Scend

Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to run out of words to etymologize. I guess it depends on how long this blog lasts. But if I do run out of words, then yeah, I’m going to have to end it.

Anyway! Here’s words that end in -scend!

Hey! That rhymed!

Ascend first showed up in the late fourteenth century, which was after ascension but three centuries before ascent. It comes from the classical Latin ascendere, to climb up, a mix of the prefix ad-, to, and scandere, which also means climb. Isn’t it funny how scandere looks like scan with -dere stuck at the end? Ha ha, that’s because that’s where scan comes from. Apparently the reason we have scan is because Late Latin started using scandere as a poetic term—when it showed up in English, it originally meant “to mark off verse in metric feet”. And somehow from there we got scan in the visual sense.

Don’t ask me, I have no idea. Just except it.

Descend follows a similar pattern: both it and descent showed up in the fourteenth century, and descension showed up later, in this case the early fifteenth century (not that descension is a word anymore!). Descend came to us via the Old French descender and classical Latin descendere, which is just descend or down. The de- gives us the down part and the scendere is climb, like with ascend. So descend: climb down. Yay! One makes sense!

Then of course there’s condescend, which is just descend with another prefix. It showed up in the mid fourteenth century from the Old French condescendere, which actually meant agree or yield. Before that it was the Late Latin condescendere, to let yourself down. (Really?) The com- prefix means together here, and combined with descendere it means climb down together…I can’t tell if it makes sense or if my brain is hemorrhaging.

Finally, there’s transcend, which showed up in the mid fourteenth century from the Old French transcendre, surpass. It comes from the classical Latin transcendere, which means things like transcend or exceed. Trans- means beyond, and with scandere as climb, it’s climb beyond. Well, it makes way more sense than condescend.



  1. The climber in me likes ascend and descend.

    It's not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop.

  2. You're not going to run out of words. There are too many of them.

  3. Don't think you'll ever run out of words. They keep introducing new ones into the dictionary.


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