In a word: desuetude

The Baltimore Sun

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


Things come and go. Much as people liked WordPerfect, Microsoft Word dominates. The martini Franklin Roosevelt concocted for the Children’s Hour at the end of the White House workday (two parts gin to one part vermouth), is a recipe no one uses any longer. Accouchement for “giving birth” has a distinctly old-fashioned sound.

Our word for the state of disuse for technology, customs, and words is desuetude (pronounced DES-wi-tood). It is the condition of no longer being used, practiced, or exercised, no longer functioning. It can also mean a condition of protracted suspension or apparent abandonment, Merriam-Webster’s says.

It is commonly paired with the phrasal verb fall into.

We have it from the Latin desuescere, a verb meaning “to become unaccustomed.”

Example: From “Grape Juice” by Stephen Tanzer in Forbes, 21 November 1994: “But since the early 19th century, Madeira consumption here has fallen into desuetude, and today it’s one of the world’s great underappreciated wines.

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