Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Devolve

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is devolve. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Devolve means “to gradually go from an advanced state to a less advanced state,” or “to pass something, such as responsibility or power, from one person or group to another person or group at a lower level of authority.”

// Over time, the weekly book club meetings devolved into mean-spirited gossip sessions.

DEVOLVE in Context

“‘Leslie [Jones] and I talk on the phone all the time, and most of our conversations are us complaining about our lives or the crazy world we live in,’ [Lenny] Marcus added. ‘It usually just devolves into us cracking each other up.'” — Rashad Grove, Ebony, 1 Aug. 2022

Did You Know?

Evolve? Check. Revolve? Check. Devolve? Now we’re on a roll—literally. All three of these words (and more) evolved from the Latin verb volvere, meaning “to set in a circular course, to cause to roll, to bring round.” Latin ēvolvere means “to roll out or away”; Latin revolvere means “to roll back to a starting point”; and Latin dēvolvere means “to roll (something) down.” In its earliest uses in the 15th century, devolve was about literally rolling down: it meant “to roll onward or downward.” Today the word is typically about a more figurative rolling down, as when an organization devolves power—that is, passes power down—to those at a lower level of authority, or when a deteriorating situation is described as “devolving into chaos.” One word, multiple uses. That’s just how English rolls.

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