Denounce vs. Renounce

By Mark Nichol

What’s the difference between denounce and renounce? Their related Latin ancestors shared a neutral sense, but in English they acquired exclusively condemnatory connotations. Denounce is externally directed — one denounces another’s words or deeds — while renounce is internally focused — one renounces one’s own viewpoints or actions, or is called on to do so.

The Latin precursor of denounce, denuntiare, means simply “to announce” “to proclaim,” or “to command,” although in ancient Rome it could also have a negative connotation. Borrowed into English from the Old French verb denoncier, it is invariably accusatory. Denunciate, a more direct descendant of the Latin term, is rare but serves as the basis of the noun form, denunciation.

Renounce comes from the Old French term renoncer, in turn derived from the Latin word renuntiare, which is synonymous with denuntiare in the neutral sense, but the English word means “to abandon a viewpoint or philosophy”; synonyms are forswear and repudiate.

The root element of these words, nunt, is related to the Latin word nuntius, meaning “messenger,” from which was formed the Italian word nuncio, which refers to an envoy of the head of the Roman Catholic Church; it was borrowed into English with this meaning.

Two other words formed from this root are announce (the original Latin prefix was ad-, meaning “to,” as in advertise — literally, “to turn toward” — so that it means “to bring a message”) and pronounce (“to put an announcement forth”). The latter word’s past-tense verb form, pronounced, also became an adjective meaning “marked” or “emphatic.”

A variation on announce, more faithful to the original Latin through its association with Catholicism, is annunciate, which is rare, though the equally uncommon annunciation is best known as a proper noun for a church holiday commemorating the angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would bear a child.

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3 Responses to “Denounce vs. Renounce”

  • Frank

    Yes, annunciate is rare in regular speech or writing. But it has a very specific, concise meaning in certain situations. In an aircraft cockpit, where I first encountered the word, a warning light or warning sound is called an annunciator – a perfectly suited word to cover both means of getting the pilot’s attention.

  • Tanja

    What about “enunciate”? I’m guessing that has the same root as well?

  • Mark Nichol

    Tanja:

    You’re right — I missed that one. Thanks for pointing that out.

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