Printable Version
Pronunciation: dayn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: To stoop to doing something, to agree reluctantly and condescendingly to do something beneath our dignity, to do with disdain.

Notes: The spelling of this word and its relatives have left a muddy trail in the history of English. It is related to disdain, the -dain in which is spelled differently even though they were spelled the same in the 14th century. The spelling in disdain is more in keeping with contemporary pronunciation, so look out for the French spelling with EI representing [ay] and the silent G serving no useful purpose.

In Play: Today's Good Word implies a bit of snootiness: "Dennis wouldn't deign to be seen in a McDonald's after he received his promotion." Otherwise, it suggests a strong reluctance: "Willy Knilly's dog would hardly deign to respond when he was called, let alone bring Willy his slippers when he came home."

Word History: Today's word originated in the Old French word deignier (daigner today), a descendant of Latin dignari "to deem worthy or fit". The same word turned up in Italian as degnare and in Spanish as dignarse "to consider worthy". The Latin verb is built on dignus "worth" or "worthy", whose root also turns up in English dignity and indignant, where the G is pronounced. This word goes back to a Proto-Indo-European word dek-/dok- "proper, fitting" that turns up in Latin decere "to be worthy, proper". The present participle of this word, decen(t)s, became French décent, which English also borrowed. In Sanskrit we find the dok- form of the PIE word in dacati "makes offerings, bestows" but also in Latin docere "to teach," which underlies a host of English borrowings, including doctrine, doctor (originally a teacher), docent, and document.

Dr. Goodword,

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