Why is the opposite of 'ascension' still 'descent', and not 'descension'? (Reference. NB: fully aware the answer may be convention, as it is with many things in English.)

  • 2
    Ascension is not interchangeable with ascent; it has philosophical/religious/cosmological connotations, especially in Christianity.
    – choster
    Feb 25 '14 at 22:33
  • The word descension does indeed exist, though it is less used than its disyllabic brother descent.
    – Anonym
    Feb 25 '14 at 23:28
  • Could you perhaps give us an example of a sentence which includes the word 'ascension' which refers to anything other than Christ's ascension into heaven? I am struggling to think of one.
    – WS2
    Feb 26 '14 at 0:06
  • There is no reason. There is also no assumption of regularity with derivational morphology, so there's no reason why the nominalizations of ascend and descend should be the same. Feb 26 '14 at 0:56
  • @WS2 Ascension and ascent are often used interchangeably in secular contexts. For example, a rise to stardom may be described as either. Mar 11 '14 at 0:31

The words ascension, ascent, descension, and descent all ultimately derive from the Latin root scandere “to climb,” through different routes.

Ascension (c.1300) and descension (early 15c.) are both derived transparently from Latin ascensionem and descensionem, nouns of action formed from the past participles of ascendere and descendere.

Descent (c.1300) is filtered through Old French descente “descent, descendance, lineage”; ascent (c.1610) is derived from English ascend by analogy with descent/descend.

The words are close enough in meaning and etymology to mix and match them as synonyms and antonyms for most senses, although ascension has religious senses that ascent does not, and descent has genealogical senses that descension does not. Descension is less often paired with ascension simply because the word isn’t much used in English at all.

  • Very helpful! +1 for the Google ngram reference. Mar 11 '14 at 18:38
  • But I am still waiting for a sentence which contains the word ascension in a secular sense! How about: 'When I flew from Singapore to London recently, I was astonished that the Airbus A380, the world's largest (double-decker) airliner, powered by four Rolls Royce Trents, with over 600 passengers and enough fuel on board for a 13 hour flight, did the runway to 25,000 feet in under 9 minutes. That seemed to an engineeringly uneducated person like me, a remarkable rate of ascension'?
    – WS2
    Mar 11 '14 at 18:44
  • I would use ascent for that. Try this instead: “Fan are thrilled with Jennifer Lawrence's ascension to superstardom.” Mar 11 '14 at 20:05
  • 1
    Of course, why didn't I think? Monarchs ascend to the throne, our present Queen's ascension having been in 1952. But the opposite is not 'descension', it is death or abdication! 'Descension' is not in Oxford Dictionaries.
    – WS2
    Mar 11 '14 at 22:01

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