Decent, Dissent, and Descent

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.

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  1. i’ve a character who suffers a spinal CORD injury. my musical brain, however, keeps trying to type CHORD!! yeeps! that’s what editors are for, right?

    1. Hi Robin, I see that error a lot in the manuscripts I work on. It struck a cord with him. Well, I guess you could strike a cord, but it wouldn’t resonate much.

      1. i love words and “there” origins (see what i did their), love to study etymology, and languages and how they all fit together! guess that’s why i’m a writer for! p.s. love grammar, too.

  2. People who make mistakes like this don’t know that they’re making them.This is why everyone needs a good copy-editor.

  3. I enjoy your posts! I just had to add something to your lovely ending sentence, forgive me…

    Regarding dissent in a democracy… you said, “…just try to be decent in the way you talk about it” — I want to add: or else you could cause that democracy to make a descent.

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