In an article about a recent mountain hike, the author said this about his return trip: “The decent was more challenging than the ascent.”
A proofreading error, I’ll wager. But it presents a teachable moment.
Decent (DEE-sint) means acceptable, presentable, polite, socially acceptable. It can also mean clothed.
- “If everyone is decent we’ll come in,” the coach hollered as he charged through the locker room door.
Or it can mean good, but not necessarily excellent.
- His grades were decent, but not good enough to get into an Ivy League school.
Descent (deh-SCENT) is what the mountain climber meant to write when referring to his hike down the mountain. It refers to downward movement—either physically or socially.
- George’s drinking led to a rather hasty descent from the social circles of Peyton Place.
It can also refer to a person’s ancestry or lineage.
- Miami is home to many persons of Latin American descent.
And then there’s dissent (dis-SENT)—when you’re at odds with someone or take a stand against the prevailing view.
- Judges take a dissenting view when they oppose the majority ruling in a legal case.
Dissent is actually essential to a thriving democracy—just try to be decent in the way you talk about it.