• denigrate •
Pronunciation: de-nê-grayt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To blacken, make dark (rare). 2. To demean, belittle, abase, to criticize as being of no value.
Notes: This Good Word originally meant "to blacken" and, according to the ultimate judge, the Oxford English Dictionary, that meaning is still possible, though rarely used. This word has a large family: a person who denigrates is a denigrator and denigrators carry out denigration. Although dictionaries rarely carry the adjective denigrative, as in 'a denigrative remark', it is surely grammatically acceptable, which means that the adverb denigratively is, too.
In Play: You might not want to ask a colleague to denigrate your cup with a spot of tea or coffee or mention how the rising clouds denigrate the playing field, as in meaning No. 1. However, the other meaning is quite current: "I know I shouldn't denigrate her behind her back, but if I do it in her presence, she will probably take offense." Of course, the only reason we even suggest this Good Word is that some things earn denigration: "Why are you always denigrating my idea for an electric fork?"
Word History: This Good Word with a bad meaning comes from Latin denigrare "to blacken, defame" based on de- "of, from" + niger "black". The root comes from Proto-Indo-European neg-/nog- "dark, night" which, with the suffix -t, turned out as night in English, Nacht in German, noch' in Russian, and nux in Greek, all meaning the same thing. Latin nox "night" is actually noc-s but it actually contains the same T we see in the other languages, since it shows up in the genitive case as noctis "of the night". The X-form of this word turns up in English equinox, while the T-form is visible (and audible) in nocturn and nocturnal.