Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Okay, at the great personal risk of making a fool of myself (or looking like a tool), I am going to jot down some of my thoughts in response to Anna's question:

Anyway, I come seeking further enlightenment:Why isn't the term "self-depreciating" instead of "self-deprecating"?

(I probably need to practice answering questions of this type anyway if I want to actually teach the damned language. But I promise I won't try to teach spelling!)

Okay, the first thing I did was look up self-depreciation. I double-checked the definition ("Disparagement or undervaluation of oneself and one's abilities"). I also noticed that it is a noun (duh) and that (I found this interesting and I'll get more into it later) there is no verb form.

Next, I went to deprecate (First definition:"to express disaproval of; deplore," Second definition: "to belittle; depreciate") and depreciate ("to lessen the price or value of").

Now, deprecate is a transitive verb, which means it takes a direct object (as in the sentence He deprecated his looks [N V DO]). Depreciate, on the other hand, can function as a transitive or intransitive verb (so it doesn't always need a direct object). Does this mean anything? Probably not. On the other hand, in my desk dictionary, there is no mention of this verb functioning as a transitive verb; I got this information off the internet. Is this a recent development? If so, it would fit into the theory I'm starting to develop.

Now, under depreciate was the usage note: "The first and fully accepted meaning of deprecate is 'to express disapproval of.' But the word is now used, almost to the exclusion of depreciate, in the sense 'to belittle or mildly disparage,' as in He deprecated his own contribution. In an earlier survey this newer sense was approved by a majority of the Usage Panel."

What does this mean? I don't really know, but here's my theory:

Deprecate started as a transitive verb, such as in the sentence He deprecated himself. From here, we turned this idea into a noun: self-depreciation. (Why didn't we use the verb depreciate? Because, not being a transitive verb (my guess), we couldn't form the sentence *He depreciated himself.)

'Course, I could be totally wrong on this one (and I probably am), but my guess as to the future:

1) People will create a verb from self-depreciation;
2) The first definition of deprecate will basically disappear in favor of the second definition;
3) Depreciate will... I honestly have no idea.

Ugh, that is probably all scrambled and jumbled. I really oought to go to the OED and check my theory. I'm probably way off base here. Feel free to enlighten me.

Dictionaries used:
The American Heritage College Dictionary (2000)


At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anna said...

Well done, lady. All very reasonable and logical.

I think I've decided that the epitome of
"self-depreciating" is Tom Cruise' behavior (and its
real and/or scapegoated affect on his box office

At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Anna said...

That'll teach me not to copy-n-paste directly from something I emailed and for ONCE not previewing the comment...



At 10:46 AM, Blogger Ovonia Red said...

Whew. I feel like I've passed some sort of test...



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