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Deign

To deign is to condescend to do something. When you deign to perform an action, you perceive the action to be beneath your dignity, but you reluctantly do it anyway. For example, a person used to fine dining might deign to eat fast food when nothing else is available, or a usually dignified man might deign to dress up as a clown to entertain his grandkids. In conventional usage, deign is always followed by to. For instance, instead of she doesn’t deign say hello, we write she doesn’t deign to say hello. 

Examples

These writers use deign well:

In fact, Ms. Kovalenko doesn’t even deign to drink anything as commonplace as champagne. [New York Observer]

While Alexander was speaking, Reid and Pelosi wouldn’t even deign to look at him. [NY Times]

J.D. Salinger did not deign to write a separate reply. [Seattle PI]

Because deign is rare and a little tricky, writers come up with all sorts of interesting ways to misuse it. For example, these writers use deign as a synonym of dare:

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I encourage readers to test my assertion in the News-Leader online forums; see how many ad hominem insults are generated when you deign to question collectivist dogma. [News-Leader]

I do not deign to educate you on matters you are no doubt more schooled in than I. [Democratic Underground]

This writer uses it as a synonym of deem:

They deign purchasers worthy of its use, so long as users abide by the legalese that blows past with every click of an “accept” button at the install screen. [Publicola]

And these writers use it as a synonym of see fit to or decide:

The actual genesis of “new liberalism” would surprise many leftists, should they ever deign to study its true origins. [Canada Free Press]

[T]he images and results of the Games were shared in real time, often hours and hours before NBC would deign to offer them to the viewing public. [Kate O’Hare’s Hot Cuppa Tea]

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Comments

  1. George Leigh says:

    I think the final sense should be regarded as correct, especially in an ironical sense. NBC obviously acts from a position of superiority in possessing the exclusive television rights, and considers it beneath its dignity to show them live. This meaning differs from “see fit” or “decide” in having an element of bother about it.

  2. Reading the (vapid) second-to-last one from “Canada Free Press” in context, I think the author was properly using deign to imply that liberals are on such a high horse that they are loathe to read up on things that inform their beliefs.

  3. In the sentence “I do not deign to educate you on matters you are no doubt more schooled in than I.” the usage is almost ironic, in that it seems the writer is using deign in lieu of presume, since deign is to choose with the connotation that the choice is ‘beneath one’s station” while presume has the subtext of reaching ‘above’ one’s appropriate level.

  4. Vange King says:

    This is definitely a new word to me. Thanks for posting it and
    explaining how it is used. I am going to read up on the rest and broaden
    my vocabulary. Evangeline.

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