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First attested in late Middle English circa 1425; from the French décerner, from the Latin dēcernō (I decide, pronounce a decision), from (of, from, away from) + cernō (I separate, distinguish), whence the English cern. In Old French, the forms of décerner were frequently conflated with those of descerner, discerner; the two verbs were not clearly distinguished until the sixteenth century; hence, in English also, decern is found with the sense discern.



decern (third-person singular simple present decerns, present participle decerning, simple past and past participle decerned)

  1. Decide; determine; decree.
    1. (obsolete, transitive) Decide; determine (a matter disputed or doubtful).
      1. with simple object
      2. with infinitive or object clause
      3. intransitive
    2. (transitive) Decree by judicial sentence. Now a technical term of Scottish judicature; the use of the word decerns being necessary to constitute a decree.
      1. with simple object
      2. Decree by judicial sentence that something be done.
      3. Decree a person etc. to be or to do something by judicial sentence.  (in the phrase “to decern in”, obsolete) To mulct in by decree of court.
        • 1668 July 3rd, James Dalrymple, “Thomas Rue contra Andrew Houſtoun” in The Deciſions of the Lords of Council & Seſſion I (Edinburgh, 1683), pages 547–548
          He purſued Andrew Houſtoun upon his promiſe, to give him the like Sallary for the next year, and in abſence obtained him to be holden as confeſt and Decerned.
      4. intransitive
      5. transferred sense
  2. Discern.
    1. (obsolete, transitive) Distinguish or separate by their differences (things that differ, one thing from another).
      1. (intransitive) Distinguish; discriminate between.
    2. See distinctly (with the eyes or the mind); distinguish (an object or fact); discern.

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