Word of The Day for Wednesday, November 24, 2010


ka•tab•a•sis (kuh-TAB-uh-sis)  n

1. a descent of some type, esp. a military retreat (in allusion to that of the ten thousand Greeks under Xenophon, related by him in his Anabasis)
2. a trip from the interior of a country down to the coast
3. the sinking of the winds or sun
4. a trip to the underworld
5. gradual descending of emphasis on a theme within a sentence or paragraph (poetry and rhetoric)

katabaseis plural

1830–40;  < Gk katábasis  a going down, descent, equiv. to kataba-  (s. of katabaínein  to go down) + -sis

Antonyms: anabasis

Sentence Examples:
• The story of this anabasis has been told in hundreds and thousands of fragments--the anabasis that has had no katabasis--the literal going up of a people, as we shall see, from primitive husbandry and handicraft and a neighborly individualism, to another level, of machine labor, of more comfortable living, and of socialized aspiration. -The French in the Heart of America, John Finley
• Like Western civilization itself, as his friend and chief critical promoter Harold Rosenberg sardonically remarked, De Kooning was always in decline. This katabasis is supposed to have begun in the early '50s, with the Women series. -1994

The Storyline
So Anna began to wind down the phone call with her mother, knowing that it would take her katabasis on all fronts to pull herself out, but also knowing that, this time at least, she was aware of this tactical move.

Why This Word:
More than a descent, a katabasis is a journey down toward (or away from) something and a transformational process. Derived from the Greek meaning descent, it has several meanings, some contextually specific, but each entails some sort of journey and change. The katabasis into the underworld in stories like The Iliad or The Divine Comedy involve the hero going down to acquire some knowledge, to be altered by the experience.
While we generally associate progress or positive transformation with ascent or advance, it's instructive to remember what can be gained in retreat and descent.

Sources: Wikipedia, Dictionary.com

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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