In a Word: Desuetude

May 09, 2011|By John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun

Each week, The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary.

This week's word: DESUETUDE

Those clever Romans had a word, suescere, "to become accustomed to," and by adding the prefix de- they made it desuscere, "to put out of use," effectively to become unaccustomed to. The French turned it into desuetude, for a state of disuse, inactivity or abandonment.

Then, the English language, alert as a magpie for shiny things, picked it up and kept it for its own, though making the pronunciation "DES-wi-tood" or "DES-wi-tyood."

It may be less common than in the 18th or 19th or even 20th century, but it has not faded into disuse itself.

Example: With the advent of computerized editing, his accustomed tools — the line gauge, the proportion wheel, the grease pencil, the typewriter — fell into desuetude.

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