Printable Version
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: Chews the food for you, of courseYou 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.

Dr. Goodword,

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