That Annoying New Verb “disrespect”

By Maeve Maddox

Reader Erica Richards, commenting on the post about the abomination “a few stuff,” was not so sanguine as I about teenagers outgrowing appalling usage:

The trend I’m seeing is that poor grammar habits are not only perpetuated into adulthood, but can be treated as an accepted form of speech used on TV or the radio. I suspect that eventually it is accepted as proper grammar . . . The most notable example is the current vernacular use of “disrespect” as a verb, as in “he disrespected me”.  Sounds like nails on a blackboard to me, however, it’s all over the media.

Well, I feel the same way about disrespect used as a verb. It flies all over me when I hear it and I was about to write a post about how ridiculous, unidiomatic and unnecessary the usage is.

Before I did, however, I looked it up in the OED. I didn’t expect to find it or, if it was there, I expected it to be labeled an Americanism.

This is what I found.

disrespect: v. trans. The reverse of to respect; to have or show no respect, regard, or reverence for; to treat with irreverence. Hence disrespected ppl. a., -ing vbl. n.

Not only is disrespect in the OED as a verb, its use as a verb goes back to the seventeenth century.

1614 WITHER Sat. to King, Juvenilia (1633) 346 Here can I smile to see..how the mean mans suit is dis-respected.

1633 BP. HALL Hard Texts N.T. 11 If he love the one he must disrespect the other.

1683 CAVE Ecclesiastici 231 (Basil) To honor him, and dis-respect his Friend, was to stroke a man’s head with one hand, and strike him with the other.

1706 HEARNE Collect. 26 Apr., He was disrespected in Oxford by several men who now speak well of him.

1852 L. HUNT Poems Pref. 27 As if..sorrow disrespected things homely.

1885 G. MEREDITH Diana I. 257 You will judge whether he disrespects me.

Some of us may feel that “disrespect” as a verb is a despicable neologism, but it isn’t.

Erica, your observations about the way incorrect usage filters into the media are valid, but it looks as if we’ll have to bite the bullet on disrespect as a verb.

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30 Responses to “That Annoying New Verb “disrespect””

  • Brad K.

    I would take dishonored as an example of word usage similar to disrespected.

    – His actions dishonored the flag/his word/his family/the unit.

    Why would dishonored be expected usage, and disrespected be suspect?

  • Dee

    I suspect racial prejudice has something to do with it. “Disrespect” is often used as a verb in the African American dialect.

  • Su

    So….let’s see: “Before I did, however, I looked it up in the OED. I didn’t expect to find it or, if it was there, I expected it to be labeled an Americanism.” AND “Some of us may feel that “disrespect” as a verb is a despicable neologism, but it isn’t.” Are you suggesting Americanisms are despicable? Pretty tacky. Americanisms are just as valid as, say, Britishisms in language.

  • Jeromy

    I’m shocked. Shocked!!

    That usage has always bugged me. Another one that grates is the use of “anymore” in positive senteces.

  • Erica Richards

    Guess I need a copy of the OED as I couldn’t find disrespect as a verb in either of my dictionaries. I stand corrected and will live with it! 🙂

  • beth johnstone

    aw shucks! and here I was …waiting to pounce on this awful usage…and what did I get….nothing but disrespect…

  • Deborah H

    “Disrespect(ed)” as a verb clangs in my ears, but “dissed” (can we call “dissed” a back formation?) doesn’t bother me. “My bad” is useful, too, especially when accompanied with the tapping-the-chest hand gesture of apology.

    It may be street slang, but it’s pure communication.

  • Stella

    Well, all words are despicable neologisms at some time or other in history. I guess the longer it’s been around, the more respect it gets – a linguistic version of ‘respect the elderly’. Or, conversely, ‘disrespect the young’. 😉

  • Pamela

    An example that immediately came to mind when I read this post (and the one on “a few stuff” – eek!) was the new use of “versed” – as in when talking about a game (for example, England vs. Australia) you sometimes hear particularly children and teens talking about who “versed” whom or who were they “versing”. I recently heard my 6 year old nephew talk about a team he “versed” at school. It may be a local thing but I hope it doesn’t catch on!

  • Brad K.

    Pamela, And here I was thinking that the well versed person would leverage their team’s strengths to vie with their opponent in a vigorous and sportsmanlike manner.

    Now I find one verses them.

    (I hate verbing leverage, etc.)

    But just think of the wondrous scope of language just beginning to open up. Not only have national news channels grown from three (3) or four (4) in the last forty (40) years, but with computers synthesizing speech, I imagine that allowing the verbing of all kinds of words will result is a plethora of dialects and new word usages. Next thing will be unrestrained nouning, I guess.

    (Is the practice of using the number words, followed by the digits form in parentheses, an early form of HTML ALT text?)

  • Csprrr

    I don’t see how this word being 300 years old, makes it anymore useful, worthy of existence or less ugly.

    Old age is no excuse.

  • Belinda

    Oh dear. I just told my husband off for using that term. I hate it with all my heart. Now I can’t tell him I was wrong.

  • Joe Wates

    what about tonally rising at the end of a sentence as if your asking a question when your not!
    Nothing more irritating!
    …and the mispronunciation of the letter ‘H’ – its a killer.
    It’s like saying the letter ‘F’ is pronounced “fef” or ‘L’ is “lel”…!!

  • Trevor J Visick

    I am almost obsessed with listening intently to the media to await the next grammatical or contextual error or scientifically inappropriate word or expression. It is my intention to have the listing published when I feel that it is prudent to do so. The following examples may serve to illustrate the thrust of my pursuit:
    During a programme covering a house ‘make-over’, one of the team asked (of a colleague), “What’s your name called?”
    Question: Since when have names been given names?
    On an antiques programme, an expert referred to an item as being ‘very unique’.
    Not possible! Uniqueness is, by definition, absolute and cannot be qualified in a comparative sense.

  • Mark

    If I believed that this usage stemmed from an awareness of the historical use of the word and was not due to an apparent lack of respect or ignorance for the common modern accepted usage then I too would be willing to humbly accept it.

    I do not believe this am not inclined to accept it for this reason.

  • john richardson

    Disrespect as verb may not be improper but it does grate on me as well. I was raised by a generation that simply did not use it that way. I am certainly teaching my daughter to use it as a noun only.

    I dont necessarily think it is a racial issue, but one of socioeconomic identification. Either way, would you go into an interview of any kind and use is a verb? I would not.

    ‘Nuff said.

  • Phil Valentine

    Oh dear, one feels that some people need to get a life and stop trying to sound as clever as possible whilst composing their sentences. As far as I’m concerned , the word disrespect should be treated as street slang and nothing else. Anyone of any supposed intellect using it in either public or private circles will hopefully be treated with the contempt they deserve. On the point of it being a racial issue, yes I think you’re right, ethnic minorities have been watering down the English language to its most basic form for years and will continue to do so. The fact that people point this out does not make them racist but merely observant.

  • Brandon

    I find particularly grating the widespread use of “aks” in place of “ask” as in “he aksed me for a glass of water.” This is found largely in the speech of African Americans but it is spreading to others, especially whites from lower socio-economic groups. (Am I being racist?)

  • Danny

    Did you not read the prior comments Brandon?

  • Roger

    @Brandon. No, you are damn right, and I’m no racist myself. Back to topic, and why are we all responding to a 3 year old thread (?) – “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. Yes, in fact, “disrespect” is all I have towards users of such language, never mind the pun.

    On the topic of “lower socio economic” groups – it’s unfortunate that this group is also has a greater share of non-whites. This adds to the stereo typing of non-whites as being poor. I sometimes wish the media would stop altogether referring to people by ethnicity and religion, and simply say “a 25 year old man did so and so”, not “a 25 year old hispanic/sikh/muslim/whatever man did so and so”.

  • Karen Jackson

    The worst of the worst is still “Me and Jeff went there”. This is creeping into popular usage when its wrong and makes the user sound as if they skipped that day in grammar class. It does, however, eliminate the need to chose between “me” and “I”.

  • RW

    I realize it is likely no one will read this after 3 years but I just had to comment. I’m from an ethnic minority and no, it’s not racist to say that the English language is being systemically destroyed and minorities play a big role. As someone pointed out, it’s just observant.

    The problem is more than that though and Roger alluded to it above. I moved to Canada when I was 13, having spoken and voraciously read English all my life. My grammar was superior to 90% of those in my grade 8 class. What was their excuse? Answer: they didn’t have one. Or, answer 2: slang is cool, proper grammar is not. This was close to 20 years ago and things have only gotten worse. Bad language filters up from those that are “socio-economically unlucky” and we embrace it with open arms 😛
    Oh well…such is the way of the world, I guess.

    And as for Americanisms, they are horrible!! They lack charm, creativity and are a poor excuse for not using the language properly. The things I hear these days: “incentivize”????? What is that? Invite used as a noun? “Yeah, send me an invite.” If that is not patently American and patently annoying, I don’t know what is 😛
    I can’t comment much on modern “Britishisms” but I suspect if they stem either from lazy business people or those that are socio-economically poor, I think I would feel the same way about them too.

  • Nick

    I prefer ‘being disrespectful’ to disrespected, or even worse when ‘disrespecting me’ is used.

    It may not be incorrect, but it is confrontational language. Either you’re showing respect, or showing disrespect. One or the other, black and white, on my side or an enemy.

    It is street language here in the UK, and as if respect must come into the equation at all times. Wrong answer, you get knifed.

    So when my white middle class flat mates/ room mates use it, I want to give up.

  • Joseph

    This is a response to Dee’s comments dated: September 4, 2009 1:58 pm…

    “I suspect racial prejudice has something to do with it. “Disrespect” is often used as a verb in the African American dialect.”

    Well, Dee, with all due respect, have you considered the possibility that educated people may not want to emulate the dialect of hip-hop artists, gangstas, promoters of Ebonics and a culture that seems to have a fairly broad-based ‘disrespect’ of higher Education? And possibly, even a certain disrespect for even finishing high school? We don’t have to show respect for anyone of any race or ethnic background who doesn’t themselves first have respect… and we certainly don’t have to have respect for those who are determined to be losers in any society on this earth… anyone who does is a fool who is definately NOT helping the downtrodden… themselves, or their country. Here is my advice: Try growing up.

  • Caleb Boone

    Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

    I have read several, but not all, of the above comments.

    I agree that disrespect used as a verb is irritating.

    Ax used for ask is equally irritating.

    Eck-set-era for et cetera is also awful.

    Of course there are many more.

    When one cannot carry on a conversation without dancing about or pointing one’s fingers at oneself or speaking in a chant, rhythm or rhyme, then silence is preferable.

    Heavens to Betsy.

    Have a Dovely.

    Sincerely yours,
    Caleb Boone.

  • Psibermage

    @Deborah H …
    “My bad.”, with or without the hand/chest thumping, may or may not be pure communication. Whatever it is (or was), it seems now is become a lot like the mostly insincere, “Sorry ’bout that… (but…)”.

    I still cringe the day a person called from a banking institution for my dad the day he died. I answered the phone and explained he had passed away, and that caller had the insolent temerity to say, “Sorry ’bout that, but I’m calling to …” blah blah blah.

    I hung up.

  • Neville James

    I’m sorry, but I find the use of ‘disrespect’ as a verb totally unacceptable. Furthermore, I cannot trace it in any of my perfectly good dictionaries and would refute the above findings. I would advise anyone engaged in formal discourse to steer well clear of its use, and leave it to the semi-literate.
    As for the ‘v.’ used to denote opposing sides or ideas, surely those who use the expression as a verb are ignorant of the fact that it stands for ‘versus’, not ‘verses’.

  • Katy Blue

    I’m driven crazy by statements such as “The lawn needs mowed” and “The bed needs made.” I certainly don’t claim to be perfect by any means, but this misuse of grammar makes me clench my teeth. I’ve even heard it used in an advertisement for a college!

  • Maeve

    Katy,
    You’ll find a discussion of “The lawn needs mowed” here: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/this-sink-needs-fixed/

  • Petra Posta

    I also loathe the use of “disrespect” as a verb, and totally despise the slang term “diss”. Another real annoyance is “at”, as in “Where are you at?” When I hear it used incorrectly, I automatically assume that the speaker is uneducated and crude.

    Recently, I read an article concerning some of the sly innuendos and puns used by Shakespeare. Due to the paucity of rules of grammar and especially of spelling, the language of the day was a rather loose conglomerate. The article itself, though vulgar, is worth reading, especially the last two paragraphs.

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