(to return to Words page, click here)
Essay Six, The Essence of "Esce"
The Latin suffix “esce” is one of the finest gifts of that Romance language to English, but it is a gift for we have not fully or properly thanked that language. We haven’t fully appreciated it because we don’t often use the few verbs ending in “esce” and we don’t use our imaginations to invent more of them that truly would be useful. This chapter explores the meaning of “esce” and the common verbs through which it is brought to life. It then highlights rare verbs with that suffix and suggests new verbs that would use it. Finally, I conclude with a section entitled “you light up my life”—focusing on “esce” verbs having to do with light.
The common verbs I will explore are: coalesce, acquiesce, effervesce, effloresce, deliquesce, obsolesce, incandesce, quiesce and excresce. Then, I will move to either rare or invented terms, such as ingravesce, languesce (more powerful, I think, than languish), putresce, incalesce, rejuvenesce, adolesce, cresce, senesce, and delitesce. In the final section I will examine luminesce, iridisce, pearlesce, opalesce, fluoresce, and phosphoresce.
The key to understanding “esce” is to realize that it stresses the onset of an action or state in Latin. Technically called the “ingressive” or “inchoative” or “inceptive” in Latin. A good example of a Latin verb with the “esc” in it is “rubesco,” which means “I am becoming red” or “I am reddening.” (1) It would not be stretching the “esce/esco” ending too far to say that it also includes a process or act of becoming as well as the initiation of that state. The “esce” is particularly interesting in our day because we are increasingly focused on processes rather than simple states of being in all aspects of our lives. We believe, more than ever, that life is a journey, a constantly transforming and morphing creation, a kaleidoscopic tour of the universe. We know we will almost certainly change careers, likely change spouses and probably read dozens of self-help or self-improvement books in the course of our lives. (2) “Esce”-ending verbs are the perfect creatures to help us embrace this cultural or intellectual transformation with confidence and skill.
(1) Sihler, Andrew, Language History: An Introduction (2000), p. 259.
(2) This book, for example, is an unabashed "self-improvement" book.
Coalesce, Acquiesce, Effervesce, Effloresce and Others
Let’s begin with the most familiar: coalesce. (3) It literally means “to grow together,” and it has, since first used in English in 1541, meant “to unite, combine, grow together into one body” or, as is most frequent today, “to unite or come together, so as to form one.” (4) Coalesce differs from synonyms such as mix, commingle, blend, merge, and amalgamate in that it “suggests a natural affinity for each other in the things merging and a resulting organic unity.” (5) The word is popular journalistically; the New York Times has used it more than 600 times since 2000. Pakistani artist Rashid Rana makes large collages that use scraps of lushly illustrated advertisements and pages from art books. As he does this, “the tiny elements coalesce into large figurative images. . .” (6) A biblical image of something that coalesces, without using the word, derives from St. Paul’s picture of the Church as the Body of Christ:
“we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (7)
Keep those words in mind; that is the meaning of coalesce.
(3) You might say that "convalesce" which means to get better or recover from sickness, is more prevalent, but I will not say more about convalesce except to note that it, like other inceptive verbs, carries with it the notion of process.
(4) OED, s.v.
(5) Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms, p. 542.
(6) Article by Randy Kennedy, New York Times, September 3, 2009, C1.
(7) Ephesians 4:15-16
To acquiesce means to agree tacitly to or to concur in; to accept the conclusions or arrangements of others. It is derived from two Latin words meaning “to grow quiet” or, literally, “to move to rest.” The original appearances of the word in English emphasized the physical nature of this “rest.” From 1642: “Being safely returned to his Mother’s soile, he may very well acquiesce in her lap.”
But normally today we use it to suggest quiet agreement or ceasing to oppose something. The OED insists that the proper preposition to use with acquiesce is “in,” and calls the uses of it with “to” or “with” as “obsolete.” (8) Obsolescence is relative in language, but I will put on my “purist” hat and agree with the OED on this one. One can acquiesce in the necessity to do something, in someone’s claims, in a decision or in the propriety of something. I suppose the act of growing silent can relate to anything on which agreement can be sought.
(8) OED, s.v., Def 2b.
Effervesce is one of the most beautiful words in the language. It comes from the inceptive form of the verb fervere, from which we get fever, and means “to begin to boil,” “to bubble.” The term originated in the sciences in the eighteenth century, but by the mid-nineteenth century a figurative usage, meaning “to be in liveliness or exhilaration,” emerged. From whom? Harriet Beecher Stowe, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. “A number of…juveniles…were effervescing in all those modes of…gambol and mischief.” That use is prevalent today, even though the older, “bubbling” character of the word can often be seen between the lines. A movie can effervesce (rather than fizzle); a father effervesces about his son’s career; a woman effervesces with a can-do spirit; music can effervesce and charm; language glitters and characters effervesce. Use effervesce whenever you can. Your life, as well as language, will be richer.
Effloresce and excresce are two words that describe the flowering or growth of things. The former stresses the “flowering” or good growth, while the latter stresses unsightly, abnormal or unnatural growth. To effloresce suggests the bursting forth and not simply a slow or patient growth. It was first used to describe the growth of flowers, then chemistry took over the word, but finally (and thankfully), a figurative use asserted itself, and we now live in the figure. “Some bloom early; others effloresce only later.”
The verb effloresce is used far less frequently than its corresponding noun, efflorescence, but I think the ingressive nature of the word is better captured by the verb. From a 2008 book review: “Before disaster, injustice and cruelty overtake Roseanne, her narrative suddenly effloresces into a wonderful evocation of the charm and exuberance of young girls.” (9)
(9) Irish Times, April 10, 2008, Weekend Section, p. 10.
Excresce is a rare word, but it should be kept and even cultivated because it stresses other more noxious types of growth that are no less real for being injurious. Excrescence, the noun, is much more popular. Its most memorable appearance is Berkeley’s use of it in 1752: “Tumors, wens and preternatural excrescences.” The most real, and frightening, thing about these growths is that, indeed, they grow. They excresce. Cancerous tumors excresce. Boils and fungi excresce. We may hate the sight of these, but we need the word.
Incandesce, Deliquesce, Obsolesce
The verb incandesce isn’t quite so popular as the adjective incandescent, but the root means “to become warm, glow, inflame.” The essence of the meaning is “glowing.” “She looked incandescent in the new gown.” An eloquently written article on the high desert country in NW Nevada has this to say:
“Not long ago, I was in Winnemucca in just as one of the dry spells came to a dramatic end. For weeks, all of northern Nevada had seemed to positively incandesce, without quite bursting into flame. Then, early on an August morning, a rattle-your-chakra thunderclap rousted me from bed. By the time I stumbled out to the motel parking lot, the sage flats around Winnemucca had been transformed into a tableau of flaming devastation as three separate fires gobbled their way toward town.” (10)
(10) Matt Jenkins, "The MOG Squad," High Country News, September 1, 2008, p. 14.
The landscape glowed before it erupted into flame. Again, the literary critic R.P. Blackmur used the word in describing aspects of Emily Dickenson’s poem “Renunciation.” For the uninitiated, it runs:
Is a piercing virtue,
The letting go
A presence for an expectation—
“Some function of the word pierce precipitates a living intrinsic relation between renunciation and virtue; it is what makes the phrase incandesce." (11)
(11) Quoted in R.W. Blake, Literacy and Learning (2002), p. 138.
Every time you see something glow, think about how it is incandescing; how its beginning and growth and process is to glow. Then you are brought into the world of incandesce.
Quiesce is also a rare verb, but it ought not to be. We usually have to waste words and say, “The situation became quiet,” while all we really need to say is that “it quiesced.” Originally the verb quiesce was a grammatical term, indicating the lack of sound given by a silent consonant, but that usage, while still prominent, has been trumped by the meaning “to become quiet; to subside into.” From 1988: “The fireballs flaring brightly and slowly quiescing into a radiance, then disappearing within the smoke.” As I looked to the way quiesce has been used in the last few years, I see it increasingly used in connection with databases and computers. Oops. A better usage is being overlooked, and you can capture it.
I love the way the word deliquesce rolls off the tongue. It means to liquefy or dissolve gradually in water.” Its figurative meaning is “melt away.” What about if the Wicked Witch of the West said, when Dorothy hurled water on her, “I’m deliquescing, deliquescing!” If the coroner for her sister could use the word “aver,” she could respond, in her death, with another good word. A review of the paintings of the famous nineteenth century British painter Joseph Mallord William Turner, has this to say:
“Dazzling suns descend towards distant horizons, filling the atmosphere with glittering light. Forms deliquesce into a glorious shimmer. We gaze entranced into Turner’s vision, its sources in Claude by now all but forgotten.” (12)
(12) Rachel Campbell-Johnson, "Trips of Light Fantastic," London Times, March 25, 2009, T2.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. uses his typical wry humor on the word:
“…whose whole vocabulary had deliquesced into some half-dozen expressions.” (13)
(13) Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, x.
Finally, a few words should be said about obsolesce. Since most of us are growing older by the day, and since a number of the things we do or love are becoming out-of-date, we tend to obsolesce. To obsolesce means to fall into disuse. But lack of use doesn’t often happen overnight; we need a verb to capture the beginnings and evolution of the process. Things or people can obsolesce. George Bernard Shaw could write (1934): “The lists of crimes and penalties will obsolesce like the doctors’ lists of diseases and medicines.” More recently, the New York Times had and article entitled “New New a thousand times New (we’d rather die than obsolesce).” As with quiesce, however, obsolesce has been taken over by the computer and mechanical world. Things don’t wear out anymore; they obsolesce. “Some of the people that we’re talking about are elderly people on fixed incomes who will never obsolesce their septic system. . .” (14) I hope we can reclaim a good word from the cesspool..
(14) "Franklin Eliminates Time Requirement for Sewer Taps," The Tennessean, July 20, 2009.
“Esce” Candidates For Revival/Invention
The word convalesce expresses the idea of getting better or recovering from sickness. How do we say, in a word, that a person’s condition is worsening? We don’t have a good word to express it, and we need one. Why? Because people are going downhill all the time. Don’t we have a better way of saying it than “she is deteriorating,” or “the condition is worsening,” or “he won’t make it?” You bet. We can pick up on the familiar word “invalid” and not-so-familiar word “ingravid” and come up with invalesce and ingravesce. On the analogy of saying that someone is convalescing at home, we might say that he is invalescing in the hospital or in hospice care or elsewhere. An invalid is “infirm from sickness or disease; enfeebled by illness or injury.” (15) Rather than just focusing on the condition, we need a word that captures gradual decline. Invalesce will do just fine.
(15) OED, s.v., Def. A.
But we also have ingravesce. It isn’t officially a word in the OED, but ingravescent and ingravescence are. Derived from the Latin word gravis, which means “heavy,” (16) ingravescent means “increasing in gravity or severity; growing worse.” The word is rare and appears mostly in medical publications. The noun appeared in 2008:
“Medical treatment represents the first choice, followed by surgical styloid process resection, in the case of persistence or ingravescence of the complaint.” (17)
(16) We have the word "gravity" in English to express the idea of something "heavy" that keeps us tethered to the earth. If a woman is "gravid," she is "pregnant" or "heavy with child."
(17) Drug Week, June 27, 2008, p. 665.
But we can save the word from medicine and use it to describe any situation that is deteriorating. Negotiations, conversations, a person’s mental state, relationships, among other things, can worsen. And, the idea of heaviness behind ingravesce gives us a nice visual to describe those situations in life when we just “bog down.” We ingravesce.
The word putrefy describes something that rots or goes bad. We don’t use the word that often, but it is the popular word ”for a “decline in quality, purity, or power.” (18) Yet if we truly understand the power of the inceptive, we see we need the word putresce to capture the gradual process of rotting. You can almost smell the word putresce. Indeed, putrescent and putrescence are good English adjectives or nouns to describe the process of rotting; why not form the verb off these words? If we can do so for effervesce (from effervescence and effervescent) and obsolesce, why can’t we do so for putresce?
(18) OED, s.v., Def. 2b.
A similar thing can be said for the word senesce. Though occasionally attested, it appears much less frequently than senescent and senescence. The most famous use of senescence in English is in Ogden Nash’s little poem:
And middle-age ends
The day your descendants
Outnumber your friends.”
Senesce, senescence, senescent are derived from the Latin senescere, which means to grow old. One of Cicero’s most beloved essays is entitled De Senectute or On Old Age. Almost without exception, the verb senesce, which emphasizes the process of aging or growing old, is currently used in the sciences, especially horticulture. “Subsequently, the plant produces fruit and senesces” or “plants should senesce only shortly before the end of vegetation.”
Yet, I am proposing here to use the verb to describe the aging process more eloquently and, especially, to rescue the word from the grips of the scientists. J.D. Salinger, that reclusive nonagenarian (who died at age 91 in 2010, wrote in 1965:
“Few of these..boys will mature. The majority..will merely senesce.” (19)
(19) New Yorker, June 19, 1965, quoted in the OED, s.v.
If Salinger took us through puberty with Holden Caulfield, perhaps he can take us into adulthood with senesce.
Then, speaking of puberty, why not invent two words: pubesce and adolesce to describe the condition of a young person embarking on that often tumultuous time? At this point we weakly say that the person is a “tweener” or in “Middle School” or “is becoming an adolescent.” Save some paper and be bold to use these new terms. Another possible one might be virilesce, though this word is fraught with some difficulties. (20)
(20) Virilescence is a rather rare word, defined as "the condition of becoming virile, spec. of assuming physical charaeristics of the male." This is well and god, but the quotations used by the OED emphasize its use to describe women assuming certain characteristics normally ascribed to men. From 1912, "The virilesence of women would seem to imply the emasculation of men."
Then, what if you want to recapture your youth? Perhaps it was lost or, better, that it was so good that you have trouble leaving it behind. Is there a word for this? Sure. Let’s coin a term juvenesce. To juvenesce would be to undergo a process of returning to one’s youth. If juvenescence is the “state of becoming young or youthful,” why not invent a word to honor the process that so many people want to pursue? Rather than saying, “He is celebrating a second childhood,” why not just say, “Hmm. . . Another person juvenesces.” Other possible words to describe this phenomenon are rejuvenesce or revivesce, but I prefer juvenesce.
Well, all of these terms emphasize something about growing, either old or young. What is the verb to describe the process itself of growing, without regard to whether age or youth is in view? It would have to be cresce (pronounced KRESS). A crescent moon is one that is growing. Something crescive is in the growing stage. But we need a verb to describe the condition of the whole world: it cresces.
A few remaining suggestions for new coinages can be treated quickly. Something that is latent, hidden or concealed is delitescent. (21) Why not have a verb delitesce, for those who are in the process of hiding themselves? “All delitesce when the police start calling.” I doubt if the children’s game would ever be called “Delitesce and Seek,” but the word has possibilities.
(21) The Latin latescere is the inceptive of latere, which means "to hide."
We already have a word to describe the process of becoming tired or exhausted, to decline or wither: languish. Perhaps that is enough for us. But I think that the word languesce would help describe the almost helpless enervation that a person without energy is falling into. We have languescent and languescence; languesce would complete the three-fold chain that could not quickly be broken.
Finally, let’s look at the process of becoming warm. Everyone wants to be warm, especially as Winter approaches throughout the world. But all we generally have at our disposal is the rather weak “get warm” or “warm up.” Latin, however, has bequeathed the words incalescent and incalescence to us to describe the process of becoming warm. Scientists beginning in the seventeenth century picked up these words: “The two ingredients were easily mingled, and grew not only sensibly but considerably hot, and that so nimbly, that the incalescence sometimes came to its height in about a minute. . .” (22) But we can use the term to describe anything that “warms” the human spirit. “The crowd incalesced to the inviting words of the speaker.”
(22) Quoted in the Century Dictionary, s.v.
You Light Up My Life
Let’s conclude this chapter with a brief reference to the way that verbs describing various kinds of light patterns could be exploited in our speaking and writing. We already have words describing the process of glowing (incandesce) or the notion of growing warmer (incalesce), but we still await description of the variety of ways that light can be refracted. The basic verb to do express this is luminesce. The OED tells us that it is a “back-formation” of luminescent—a formation that was derived from the adjective. Underlying the English term is the Latin lumen, or light. Thus, something that is luminescent gives off light “otherwise than as a result of incandescence." (23) One might say that the nineteenth century landscapes of John Kensett luminesce. (24)
(23) OED, s.v.
(24) Luminism was an American art movement of the nineteenth century, using the Hudson River School as forebears and models, which bathed land and seascapes in mysterious and grand light.
Then, taking luminesce as a guide, why not introduce terms such as iridesce, pearlesce, fluoresce, phosphoresce and opalesce? Each one of these implies an acquaintance with a certain kind of light, but careful working through them all yields precision and insight. Suffice it to say that since iridescence has to do with the exhibition of rainbowlike colors on a surface, something that iridesces yields a panoply of prismatic colors.
One of Shakespeare’s signal contributions to the English language was his wiliness, even eagerness, to coin new terms. Many of them plumbed psychological depths and attitudes. (25) Shakespeare didn’t do this because someone gave him permission to do so. He coined or minted new words because it just seemed to make sense to do so, to enrich his language, to give an arresting take on things, to explain himself more precisely. The language still invites our inventive capabilities. To any people who can come up with the word “intexticated” to describe the current passion for sending text messages to others while driving, we can certainly invent words to express more useful ideas. And, as this chapter shows, any words that expand our “esce”-capability top the list.
(25) About fifty of these terms are illustrated in these essays: http://www.theatrehistory.com/british/shakespeare031.html