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

  • Matty

    Lenny Nurdbolon says:
    The word–let’s face it, Verb–“disrespect” has always screamed out to me as Ghetto in origin. It’s as though the lower forms teach their kids this word before they’re able to walk. It gets worse when it’s shortened to “dis” which is pure slang.

    **
    Let’s face it, you’re a racist, with your use of the code word “ghetto” to mean “black.” If you read the article, you’d see that the word “disrespect” as a verb goes back to the 17th century.

  • John F. Kohler

    Understanding language, to me, depends on context:
    Good context–
    She showed disrespect for the flag during the national anthem.
    He declared his disrespect for the swastika.

    S. I. Hayakawa declared in “Language in Thought and Action,”
    that lexicographers are historians, not lawgivers. If that is the case,
    the uses of the word over time, by a larger growing population WILL change its meaning.

    If the new meaning leads to clearer understanding, I concur.
    If not, I object strongly

  • Graham Howat

    The correct use of disrespect in a sentence surely should be to show disrespect

  • Lenny Nurdbol

    The word–let’s face it, Verb–“disrespect” has always screamed out to me as Ghetto in origin. It’s as though the lower forms teach their kids this word before they’re able to walk. It gets worse when it’s shortened to “dis” which is pure slang.

    I stand by this statement, often referencing that grating song which spells out r-e-s-p-e-c-t over and over again.

    What’s this “optics” crap? Is that a simplified form of Ocular?

    “Bling” is another one…but at least it’s an original word.

  • Maeve Maddox

    Louise, The use of “optics” to mean “perception” or “appearances” has only recently come to my attention: http://maevemaddox.com/optics-and-perception

  • Louise

    “Disrespect” – that’s so yesterday! How about “optics”? Now used all the time to mean “how it will be perceived”. Nothing scientific. I’m grappling with having someone’s back – it still sounds threatening to me, When the young Louis XIV (“Versailles”) asked “Have you got my back?” every instinct told me that he should watch his back. Or did he say, “I’ve got your back”? More likely “I’ve got you’re back”. Never mind, I don’t expect to use it.

  • Donna

    I wonder if anyone is still reading this thread but I was amazed when I finally, out of frustration, googled “disrespect as a verb” thinking that maybe, despite all my attempts to inform people that disrespect is not a verb, I was wrong? and found a whole discussion about it! I am dismayed to find out that it really is a verb because I hate the way it sounds!

    Another word I find increasingly being used is “whilst”. It’s a toss-up which is worse. ..

  • Grilled Cheese

    I cringe every time I hear this…

    I feel it should be referenced as “He was disretful towards me.” as appoosed to “He disrespected me.”

    Am I incorrect or just being difficult?

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