grammarContinuing my dissertation on dis words whose roots are no longer part of our vocabulary, consider…

Disparage-parage. The original 14th-century French word disparagier meant to marry unequally. It has since taken on a broader meaning to devalue, degrade, reduce in rank. All making perfectly good sense when you consider that it draws from the root parage, meaning rank or lineage.

Parage comes from the feudal system. It recognized equal rights and status between two individuals, even though their inheritance was not equal. Parage also referred to noble lineage along with the qualities often associated with high rank: courtesy and generosity.

While we no longer recognize such clearly defined class roles (at least in North America) and parage is no longer part of the lexicon, disparaging commentary is common. Just spend a few minutes watching cable news or listening to talk radio. Come to think of it, I’m not above making a critical, belittling, or degrading remark about something or someone that doesn’t live up to my standards. Ouch.

Discriminate-criminate.   Criminate comes from the Latin meaning to “accuse or charge with a crime” (OED). It’s clear to spot all the derivations of that word in our modern usage: crime, criminal, incriminate, criminalize, criminalistics. You get the picture. But criminate rarely appears. Discriminate, on the other hand, is much in use and carries multiple meanings:

  • to discern, use good judgment

As Francine prepared to leave for college, her parents advised her to be discriminating when choosing friends.

  • to distinguish, differentiate

Bill had a difficult time discriminating between the two shirts because he was color blind.

  • to treat certain classes of people with prejudice or injustice

Racial discrimination remained a problem in the South long after the Civil War ended.

To paraphrase an ad from the 1980s, discriminating minds will want to be sure they are using discriminate correctly, so as not to incriminate themselves.

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