Disrespect and Dr. Fell

By Maeve Maddox

I’ve always enjoyed this cheeky translation of Martial’s 32nd epigram:

I do not like thee, Dr. Fell,
The reason why, I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well:
I do not like thee, Dr. Fell

It reminds me of the continuing outcry against the acceptance of disrespect as a verb in standard English.

Like many speakers, I reacted to the use of disrespect as a verb with surprise and disapproval the first time I heard it. It still pushes my “sounds wrong” button when I hear it used in a formal context. Apparently this reader feels the same:

Seriously peeved with the use of “disrespect” as a verb as in “He disrespected me”.  What is that?  Please make them stop.

I had to smile at the “Please make them stop.” When it comes to usage,

…who can hold a fire in his hand
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus? –Richard II

A word that fills a need for millions of speakers will find its way into standard speech, despite such objections as these:

I’m fine with it [disrespect] being used in, for instance, “meaning no disrespect….” , but it drives me wild when I hear “don’t disrespect me” or “she disrespected my space”.

It makes me want to scream!

As far as I’m concerned, the word disrespect should be treated as street slang and nothing else.

“Disrespect” should be banned as a verb. It’s a cultural thing, one to which I do not subscribe.

Occasionally, someone counters objections to disrespect by citing the OED:

Look in the Oxford English Dictionary. Disrespect has been used as a transitive verb since the early 1600s.

This defense that disrespect is in the OED as a verb cuts no ice with true objectors:

“Disrespect” as a verb or adjective, however old and prehistoric the word may be, make me cringe. I hate the word, and anyone using it in conversation with me is sure to receive no respect from me.

“Disrespect” is indeed correct when used as a verb. But I still think it sounds wrong that way so I refuse to use it. Instead of “You disrespect me,” I would choose to say, “You show me disrespect.”

The Google Ngram Viewer shows that the expression “disrespect me” was in moderate use earlier, but that it really took off in the 1980s, about the same time American hip hop music hit the mainstream and it became necessary to explain the word diss (as in “Diss me and don’t diss my daddy”).

Like it or not, the use of disrespect as a verb is grammatically unobjectionable. If one may “respect one’s elders,” one may also “disrespect one’s elders.” If people are respected, they may be disrespected. The only justification I can see for the intense dislike felt for this usage by so many commenters is that–like the speaker in the Dr. Fell rhyme–they do not like it. For them I have written a manifesto:

I do not like thee, Disrespect,
Perhaps it is your sound effect,
That causes me to so object
And makes you sound so incorrect.
But this I more than just suspect:
I do not like thee, Disrespect.

Related post: That Annoying New Verb “disrespect”

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11 Responses to “Disrespect and Dr. Fell”

  • Roberta B.

    Clever!

  • Paul H. Hebner

    I completely disagree. The use of “respect” as a verb, like “impact” and the collection of other nouns that have come into use as verbs in the past several decades, has only one causative source: pure ignorance. Such usage is an unfortunate, if natural, response to a failed education system that has left too many Americans with pathetically limited vocabularies.

    Furthermore, neither evidence of similar archaic usage, nor a lack of grammatical objections, provide any justification for turning perfectly good nouns into illegitimate verbs. Doing so shows an egregious lack of respect for the English language.

  • Nancy Romness

    I love your verse, Maeve. It is poetry to my ears! 🙂

  • thebluebird11

    I’m thinking that there are plenty of words/phrases in our language that have made their way up through the ranks, starting as street slang or shortened forms (facsimile/fax, electronic mail/email etc) and eventually becoming accepted. I have no problem with disrespect(ed) or dissed. It’s a valid word, serves a useful purpose and has many precedents.
    For people who love to argue or hold to some tradition, they can start with ‘facs’ (why should it have become ‘fax’?) and e-mail or E-mail, vmail/v-mail/V-mail…
    I was always prescriptive in my interpretation of dictionaries, but more and more, as I realize the value of peace, I think I tip the scale more toward descriptive. I’m not condoning bad English (or any other language), certainly not in a formal setting, but at this point one would hardly use the word “disrespect” or “diss” at a job interview, so that’s fine. What happens between friends, stays between friends. Have a peaceful day!

  • venqax

    If someone said that I disrespect him, I would reply that, no, I insolence him and he is rudenessing me by confusion the two things like that. I would politeness him in the future if he would courtesy me the same.

  • thebluebird11

    @venqax: I’m liking it! I don’t mean to be ruding you 😉 now tell me how you feel about conversating!

  • Dale A. Wood

    Direspect and Dr. SEUSS !
    Not in a box, not with a fox, not in a park, not in the dark, not in tree, you let me be. I do not like them, Sam I am, and I will not eat them (or swallow them). Odd a useless neologisms, that is.
    D.A.w.

  • Widdershins

    YES! Please make it stop. My eyes and ears they bleed!

  • venqax

    @bluebird: I like to conversation. Especially if it informations me.

    “For people who love to argue or hold to some tradition, they can start with ‘facs’ (why should it have become ‘fax’?) and e-mail or E-
    mail”

    But the difference there is that those are words for new things. When you have something that needs to be named, because it doesn’t have one, a new word may well be appropriate. The pseudo-verb *to disrespect* isn’t that. It’s just improper use of a word where nothing is needed. I think fax is justified just because that is how a word pronounced that way would ordinarily be spelled in English. There aren’t many English words that end in CS. That KS sound is normally made by either a CKS or an X. So fax or facks would be the norm. Fax is shorter? Email, of course, is a new word for a new thing but I think you could make a strong case that it should be written e-mail. Pronouncing a word spelled e m a i l as “ee mail” does not fit English spelling at all.

  • traindrivingreverend

    There is a split infinitive in the article, which no commentators seem to have picked up! I remember in my theological studies (in Australia), a visiting Northern Irish lecturer marked us down for splitting our infinitives “like Americans”…

    Despite my spirited appeals to Fowler and OED he was unmoved.

    The result is that while I defend split infinitives as a matter of linguistic freedom, they make me cringe! And I think that’s what Maeve is saying about this verbed noun.

    But to argue it is not right when the best linguistic tools we have allow it, and in a language with a descriptive and not prescriptive grammar, is a big call.

  • venqax

    @ traindrivingreverend: There is a good article here called
    7 Grammatical Errors That Aren’t. Of course the prohibition against splitting infinitives is one of those seven. The justification for that, AFAIK, is not an abandonment of standards, but a recognition that the rule never made sense in English and was erroneous applied from the beginning. I think it is a rule inferred from Latin, specifically, that was arbitrarily applied to English by the Romanophiles that dominated scholarship for so long. Arbitrariness usually isn’t good.

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