Archive for January, 2020

Contemptible or despicable?

January 11, 2020

Have been thinking about the difference between contemptible and despicable, starting with holding a person in contempt cf despising them.

Contempt and despite are interesting in their different intensity. Deep in their etymologies, both hold scorn – but the root despicio comes from looking down on a thing, and the early meaning of an act of despite was an act meant to humiliate, to lower the despised in the eyes of the world. It is not by chance despite gave us  “spite.” The root contemptus is from temnere, to scorn, with the intensifier com assimmilated to the t.  So despite holds a sense of seeing someone as inferior, and having an urge to see them aware of it and lowered in the world’s eyes, where contempt is more judging and turning away from,  seeing the action or person as not worthy of one’s time.

Oddly, we seldom talk of showing despite, but do talk of showing contempt. However, we more often say we despise some act or person, or say they are despicable, rather than say we hold them in contempt or say they are contemptible.  This may be from cartoon use, as I can hear Daffy Duck saying it, but it may be that saying that we despise it is, itself, acting to lower it in the eyes of others.  In contrast, showing contempt is revealing an internal state rather than acting to make others share it (well, at least we can claim it is…)