Condescending – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone that he or she is talking down to you, and you deserve more respect? You could use the word “condescending”. Discover what this word means, and how to correctly incorporate it into a sentence, in this post.

​Meaning

The adverb “condescending” has the noun form “condescension” and the verb form “to condescend”. It means that someone is belittling another person, or talking down to them, with an air of superiority. This makes the recipient of this attitude feel small and unheard.

Someone who is condescending may possess superior skills and knowledge, more life experience, or have a position of power, but that is not always the case.

Both statements and tones can be considered condescending. The former case treats someone as if they don’t know anything relevant (often despite evidence to the contrary), and in the latter case, the speaker may use the type of voice typically used when addressing small children.

​Example Usage

To get a clearer idea of how the word condescending can be used in a sentence, take a look at these examples:

  • “Even though I’m 41 and I just got my PhD, my uncle still talks to me like I’m a little girl who doesn’t know anything. He’s a condescending creep I’d rather not have in my life.”
  • “Doctors were warned never to be condescending in their communication to patients, and to do their best to answer any questions patients ask in a direct and honest way, using layman’s terms.”

Examples of condescending attitudes and behaviors may be helpful as well:

  • Upon calling your internet service provider because you don’t have internet, the help desk worker insists that you check whether your modem is plugged in.
  • After telling your parents you are majoring in philosophy, they tell you to let them know when you’ve “come back to the real world”.

​Origin

The word “condescending” is an adverb that comes from the root “condescend”. This word has its origins in the Latin language:

  • “Con” means “together” or “together with”.
  • “De” means “down” or “undoing”.
  • “Descend” means to “come down” — you descend a flight of stairs, for instance, or an airplane descends to touch down.

Use of the English word “condescend” can be traced back to the fourteenth century. It originally had a positive meaning, wherein a God or King would “come down” to the listener’s level so that an equal conversation could be held.

The meaning of the word “condescend” appears to have shifted somewhere in the mid-eighteenth century. At that point, being condescending took on a negative character.

In modern English, being condescending means to possess, or to consciously take on, a belittling tone and attitude in which the speaker comes across as if they believe they are superior to the listener.

A condescending attitude may involve using a degrading tone and facial expressions, using overly simple language, or assuming that the listener could not possibly understand what is being discussed and should not concern themselves with the subject matter.

Words Similar to Condescending

Words with similar meanings to condescending include:

  • Patronizing, although this can also mean shopping or doing business with an entity.
  • Belittling
  • Talking down to

It is also often accurate to say that the speaker is arrogant.

Words Opposite to Condescending

Antonyms include:

  • Respectful
  • Humble
  • Courteous
  • Down to Earth

What Is the Correct Word?

The correct word, condescending, means to talk down to somebody, or to assume an attitude of superiority.

​Ways People May Say Condescending Incorrectly

It is important to acknowledge that some people do, in fact, possess more knowledge, more skills, or more experience. If, in speaking to someone with less understanding, someone takes this into account, they are not automatically being condescending.

Someone can only be said to be condescending if that person insults the listener’s intelligence in their tone, words, assumptions, or attitudes.

​Acceptable Ways to Phrase Condescending

You can use the word condescending to refer to someone who spoke down to you in a disrespectful manner, or to an interaction in which your contributions or concerns were brushed off as irrelevant.

Such conversations make you feel like the other person assumed that you had nothing important to say from the outset.

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