Overheard at a local restaurant, young man to young woman:

If you do that, then you’ve deprecated yourself from being a consultant; you’re just an order-taker.

Unfortunately, I missed the preceding context, so I don’t know what “do that” referred to, but deprecate oneself from struck me as odd (I entertained the possibility that deprecated was an error for demoted). I can, however, interpret the expression if the action in question involved self-deprecation, so that the expression conveyed something like ‘ceased to be a consultant as a result of self-deprecation’.

(An even more puzzling use, this time from a blog:

I’m sure that all of you have been exposed to those inane Ice Breakers commercials. You know the ones I’m talking about. If you don’t because you’ve been self deprecating yourself from television, here’s a recap of the two commercials I’m talking about. (link)

This is surely some sort of error, but what should the writer have said instead of self-deprecating?)

A non-error, but entertaining: a Frank Cotham New Yorker cartoon of 6/12/2000, executive interviewing a job candidate: “You just self-deprecated yourself right out of a job.”

Self-deprecation came up in later New Yorker cartoons. A Leo Cullum cartoon of 12/18/2000, chairman of the board to another executive: “You’re a partner now, Cosgrove. Partners don’t do self-deprecation.” And an Alex Gregory cartoon of 4/17/2006, patient on operating table talking to the surgeon: “You know, doctor, right now I’d really prefer if your sense of humor were a tad less self-deprecating.”

OED2 has cites for self-deprecation from 1924 and 1977. Its entry for deprecate supplies, among other senses, this one:

To plead earnestly against; to express an earnest wish against (a proceeding); to express earnest disapproval of (a course, plan, purpose, etc.).

(with citations from 1641 on). A 1993 addition expands on this:

more generally, to express disapproval of (a person, quality, etc.); to disparage or belittle. (Sometimes confused with depreciate.)

(with citations beginning in 1897). A note follows:

Widely regarded as incorrect, though found in the work of established writers.

MWDEU has a long and complex entry on deprecate and depreciate, which begins:

Contrary to the views of thirty or forty guardians of the language, deprecate and depreciate are seldom confused. Most of the confusion as exists has been introduced by those who have sought to illuminate, but have only befogged. Among the befoggers must be counted lexicographers, for our attempts to define and discriminate have not been notably successful.

Somewhat overshadowed by the deprecate/depreciate controversy is a tradition, going back to the 19th century, of complaints about innovative senses of deprecate: ‘disapprove, condemn, disparage, belittle’ (as in the 1993 OED entry above and in the uses of self-deprecate ‘belittle oneself modestly’ in the New Yorker cartoons). MWDEU sees no reason to treat these uses as anything but standard — good news for me, since I fairly often use deprecate in these ways.

4 Responses to “deprecate”

  1. Jonathan Lundell Says:

    There’s a fairly common technical usage of ‘deprecate’, here in the context of the Python computer language (with ‘undeprecate’ thrown in, with slightly embarrassed quotes, for good measure):

    Usage of a module may be `deprecated’, which means that it may be removed from a future Python release. The rationale for deprecating a module is also collected in this PEP. If the rationale turns out faulty, the module may become `undeprecated’.

  2. scazon Says:

    It sounds to me like like “self-deprecating” in the blog might be an error for “depriving [your]self”, and knowing that “self-deprecating” is a thing but “self-depriving” isn’t really, the “self-” got moved? Or something?

  3. mollymooly Says:

    MWDEU calls one sense of depreciate the “disparaging sense”; and it calls one sense of deprecate the “disapproval” sense; and it says that “deprecate has taken over much of depreciate’s old territory”. This calls into question its claim that the words are seldom confused. Perhaps it means to say that they are conflated only when they are synonymous.

  4. Gag cartoons « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] On this blog, I’ve posted Cullum’s “We need to talk” cartoon (on the caveman theme, from the New Yorker of 12/25/95) here, and described this “self-deprecation” cartoon (on the corporate boardroom theme, from the New Yorker of 12/18/00) here: […]

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