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From Middle English condescenden, from Old French condescendre, from Late Latin condēscendere (to let one's self down, stoop, condescend), from Latin con- (together) + dēscendere, present active infinitive of dēscendō (I come down); see descend.



condescend (third-person singular simple present condescends, present participle condescending, simple past and past participle condescended)

  1. (intransitive) To come down from one's superior position; to deign (to do something).
    • 1665, John Dryden, The Indian Emperour, act 1, scene 2:
      Spain's mighty monarch [] / In gracious clemency, does condescend / On these conditions, to become your friend.
    • 1847, Anne Bronte, chapter 5, in Agnes Grey:
      Fanny and little Harriet he seldom condescended to notice; but Mary Ann was something of a favourite.
  2. (intransitive) To treat (someone) as though inferior; to be patronizing (toward someone); to talk down (to someone).
    • 1848, William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, Chapter 14:
      I admire that admiration which the genteel world sometimes extends to the commonalty. There is no more agreeable object in life than to see Mayfair folks condescending.
    • 1861, Charles Dickens, chapter 29, in Great Expectations:
      "You must know," said Estella, condescending to me as a brilliant and beautiful woman might, "that I have no heart."
    • 1880, Charlotte M. Yonge, chapter 7, in Clever Woman of the Family:
      Ermine never let any one be condescending to her, and conducted the conversation with her usual graceful good breeding.
    • 1907 August, Robert W[illiam] Chambers, chapter VIII, in The Younger Set, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, OCLC 24962326:
      At her invitation he outlined for her the succeeding chapters with terse military accuracy ; and what she liked best and best understood was avoidance of that false modesty which condescends, turning technicality into pabulum.
  3. (transitive, rare, possibly nonstandard) To treat (someone) as though inferior; to be patronizing toward (someone); to talk down to (someone).
    • 2007, Damian Westfall, Bennett's Cow-Eyed Girl, →ISBN:
      “I didn't mean to condescend you, Mr. Shreck.”
    • 2010, Jaron Lee Knuth, Demigod, →ISBN:
      “I'm not trying to condescend you, Ben.”
    • 2014, Greg Kalleres, Honky, page 31:
      THOMAS. [...] Does my anger deserve your condescension?
      ANDIE. I wasn't condescending you; I was just asking.
      THOMAS. No. You said “angry black man.” Like my anger only exists in a stereotype. That's condescending.
  4. (intransitive, obsolete) To consent, agree.
    • 1671, John Milton, Samson Agonistes, lines 1134-36:
      Can they think me so broken, so debased / With corporal servitude, that my mind ever / Will condescend to such absurd commands?
    • 1868, Horatio Alger, chapter 3, in Struggling Upward:
      "This is the pay I get for condescending to let you go with me."
  5. (intransitive, obsolete) To come down.

Usage notes[edit]

  • "Condescend" is a catenative verb that takes the to infinitive. See Appendix:English catenative verbs
  • In sense “to talk down”, the derived participial adjective condescending (and corresponding adverb condescendingly) are more common than the verb itself.
  • In older usage, "condescend" could be used non-pejoratively (in a sense similar to that of treating someone as inferior) to describe the action of those who socialized in a friendly way with their social inferiors. Now that the concept of social inferiors has largely fallen out of currency, so has this non-pejorative sense. Thus, in w:Pride_and_Prejudice, a character could say of another, "I need not say you will be delighted with her. She is all affability and condescension.”


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