late 15c., "to decrease," also "to decline, deteriorate, lose strength or excellence," from Anglo-French decair, Old North French decair (Old French decheoir, 12c., Modern French déchoir) "to fall, set (of the sun), weaken, decline, decay," from Vulgar Latin *decadere "to fall off," from de "off" (see de-) + Latin cadere "to fall" (from PIE root *kad- "to fall").
Transitive sense of "cause to deteriorate, cause to become unsound or impaired" is from 1530s. Sense of "decompose, rot" is from 1570s. Related: Decayed; decaying.
mid-15c., "deterioration, decline in value, gradual loss of soundness or perfection," from decay (v.). Obsolete or archaic in reference to fortune or property; meaning "decomposition of organic tissue" is from 1590s. In physics, the meaning "gradual decrease in radioactivity" is by 1897.
In words from Greek, such as abysmal, adamant, amethyst; also partly nativized as a prefix of negation (asexual, amoral, agnostic). The ancient alpha privatum, denoting want or absence.
Greek also had an alpha copulativum, a- or ha-, expressing union or likeness, which is the a- expressing "together" in acolyte, acoustic, Adelphi, etc. It is from PIE root *sem- (1) "one; as one, together with."
"a putrid state; tendency to decay," 1640s, from Latin putrescentem (nominative putrescens), present participle of putrescere "grow rotten, molder, decay," inchoative of putrere "be rotten" (see putrid). Related: Putrescency.
second letter of the Greek alphabet, c. 1300, from Greek, from Hebrew/Phoenician beth (see alphabet); used to designate the second of many things. Beta radiation is from 1899 (Rutherford). Beta particle is attested from 1904. Beta male, pejorative term for a risk-avoidant, non-confrontational man perceived as a follower or supporter rather than a leader, is by 2005, transferred from zoology (birds, primates), where it is attested by 1962 (compare alpha male under alpha).
1540s, "deteriorated condition, decay," from French décadence (early 15c.), from Medieval Latin decadentia "decay," from decadentem (nominative decadens) "decaying," present participle of decadere "to decay," from Latin de- "apart, down" (see de-) + cadere "to fall" (from PIE root *kad- "to fall"). Meaning "process of falling away from a better or more vital state" is from 1620s. Used of periods in art since 1852, on French model.