1. The act or an instance of descending: the slow descent of the scuba divers.
a. A way down: fashioned a descent with an ice axe.
b. A downward incline or passage; a slope: watched the stones roll down the descent.
3. Hereditary derivation; lineage: a person of African descent.
4. The fact or process of being derived or developing from a source: a paper tracing the descent of the novel from old picaresque tales.
5. Law Transmission of property, especially real estate, to a hereditary heir by an intestate owner.
6. A lowering or decline, as in status or level: Her career went into a rapid descent after the charges of misconduct.
7. A sudden visit or attack; an onslaught: the descent of the marauders on the settlement.
[Middle English, from Old French descente, from descendre, to descend (on the model of rente, rent and rendre, to render); see DESCEND.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.