What is senescence?

Word count: 222 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

If you increase your vocabulary you’ll not only help your reading, you’ll also make your writing more precise. Here is my word of the week.

My friend Marcelle, sent me a link to a public radio post because she liked one of the words so much: senescence. I hadn’t heard of it before but thought I could figure it out from the context. The sentence in which it appeared wasn’t much help:

Scientists call this overall process senescence.

But the story went on to describe how warm or cool autumn weather has varying effects on the colour of trees. Every autumn, trees need to recover some of the resources they put into growing leaves. They are best able to do this in the time between when the leaves begin to change colour and before they fall off the tree.

The article seemed to suggest that senescence was a word developed specifically for tree biologists. But, no, it’s actually a general term meaning the process of aging or growing old. It originates from the Latin word senescere meaning “to grow old,” and is used in a variety of scientific fields including cellular biology, genetics and evolutionary studies. Me, I like the sound of the word. The sibilance is magical, don’t you think?

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