• dignity •
Pronunciation: dig-nê-ti • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1 The pride of knowing you're worthy of respect or esteem; nobility. 2. The respect and honor associated with an important position. 3. An important position, especially in government or the church.
Notes: This word is seldom used in sense (3) above in the US, but it has left traces in other words. A dignitary is a person holding high office. The verb from this noun, dignify, means to "invest with dignity, honor". The verb also has an abstract noun, dignification, and a personal one, dignifier.
In Play: Dignity usually flows from pride: "When Hermione threw her martini in Gladstone's face, he gathered all the dignity he had left and replied, 'Thanks, I needed that. It's stifling in here.'" It can be associated with people or positions in some organization: "Mortimer ran for dog-catcher because he wanted to return to the office the dignity that he thought it deserved."
Word History: English borrowed this one, as usual, from Old French dignité "dignity", which it inherited from Latin dignitas "worthiness". The Latin word is a derivative of dignus "worth", a word that it inherited from Proto-Indo-European dek-no- "to take, accept". We borrowed this same French word at a different stage of development as the English word dainty. In the 12th century Old French had a word deintié or deinté "pleasure, tid-bit", the remnant of Latin dignitatem "beauty, greatness, worthiness", also from dignus. (French is known for eliminating certain sounds and letters from words over the course of their development from Latin.) It entered English as deinte "excellent, excellence", but over the years the meaning slipped from this sense to "delight, pleasure", then to "delicacy", and finally to what it means today. (We thank Annette Anderson with all the dignity we can muster for suggesting today's Good Word.)