Decent (decency)

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by ThomasK, May 6, 2010.

  1. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    The discussion of previous words or concepts has made me wonder whether there has not been a slight mix-up with decency, which I would like to describe as (a particular way of behaving oneself according to) certain moral standards imposed by a group (some upper class, ...).

    So how would you translate decency?

    Dutch :
    fatsoen (based on the French word façon, way, but suggesting of course that one way of behaving oneself is better than an other)

    English/ French/... :
    decency/ décence (but I cannot really understand the evolution/ link suggested in from 'base *dek-, to take, accept, to receive, greet, and the last word in that row, be suitable)
  2. Rallino Moderatoúrkos

    I'd say the appropriate Turkish word is Terbiye.

    Terbiye is sort of like training or education.

    You can add the suffix -li = with
    Terbiyeli = educated, polite, sb who knows his manners.

    or you can add the suffix -siz = without
    Terbiyesiz = non-educated, decadent.

    There is also the term: Arslan terbiyecisi = A lion tamer (for circus).
  3. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    What an interesting association, this taming! Could you ever interchange the Turkish words for decency, civilisation, politeness? I guess not, but just asking...
  4. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    In Greek we translate decency either as:
    (a) «Ευπρέπεια» (ef'prepia, f.); from the same ancient feminine noun «εὐπρέπεια» (eu'prepeia, f.). Its ancient meaning was "goodly appearance, comeliness, speciousness, plausibility". He/she who is decent is «ευπρεπής» (efpre'pis, m., f.)
    or as
    (b) «Κοσμιότητα» (kozmi'otita, f.); from the same ancient feminine noun «κοσμιότης» (kosmi'otēs, f.). It literally means "conformity to world manners" (='kosmos: world). He/she who is of "worldly manners" is «κόσμιος» ('kozmios, m.), «κόσμια» ('kozmia, f.). Good school conduct is described as «διαγωγή κοσμιοτάτη» (ðiaɣo'ʝi kozmio'tati) in school reports. «Κοσμιότατος/κοσμιοτάτη» (kozmi'otatos, m./kozmio'tati, f.)-->superlative of 'kozmios/'kozmia
  5. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Quite interesting. May I ask: is there any basic meaning of πρέπεια? Is is something like appearance? (Thanks)
  6. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    No, there's not. One can't find πρέπεια alone. However there exist a couple of adverbs with the same root: «Πρεπόντως» (pre'pontōs)--> "fitly, meetly, suitably to" and the adverbial clause «πρέπει» ('prepei)--> "to be like, resemble, beseem" (the last one has survived in modern Greek as «πρέπει» 'prepi, again an adverbial clause with the same meaning)
  7. phosphore Senior Member


    pristojnost {pri-stoj-n-ost} from pristojan {pri-stoj-(a)n}=decent, from pristajati {pri-staj-a-ti}=to suit, from stajati {staj-a-ti}=to stand

    uljudnost {u-ljud-n-ost} from uljudan {u-ljud-(a)n}=civil, from ljudi=men

    doličnost {do-lič-n-ost} from doličan {do-lič-(a)n}=decent, from doličiti {do-lič-i-ti}=to befit, from ličiti {lič-i-ti}=to resemble, from lik=face
  8. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    1. Decent in terms of "good person"; "relatively good":
    decent: порядочный /poriadotchnost/
    decency: порядочость /poriaditchnyi/
    Both words are related to the word порядок /poriadok/ - order (opposite of disorder).

    2. Decent in terms of "appropriate" (incl. "appropriate in public"):
    decent: приличный /prilitchnyi/
    decency: приличие /prilitchiye/
    These are related to the word лицо /litso/ - face. The prefix при- has the meaning of “toward/close/next”. Together it means something like "with the face" / "appropriate for the face"... To me it seems similar to the Asian concept of "losing face"
    Last edited: May 6, 2010
  9. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)

    decency = tisztesség < tisztes (decent) < tiszt [office, function], so someone who is acting according to his/her function
  10. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thaks for the Russian and Hungarian version. I am just wondering about Hungarian: could you use it in this sentence ?

  11. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    Nem illik ádámkosztümben járni. (I'd use the verb illik; sorry but I am not sure about hose ethical expressions without the proper contexts ;))
  12. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Where would you then use the first one ? And can you explain this verb ?(Thanks)
  13. Zsanna

    Zsanna ModErrata

    Hungarian - Hungary
    It is true that the more innocent the question, the more difficult it can get, ThomasK!:)
    But let me remind you that in your sentence you used "indecent" meanwhile originally the thread is about the opposite... Encolpius gave the good equivalent in all the cases and had to change words (tisztességes > nem illik) when you changed the English...

    My attempt to answer: nem tisztességes (so the negative of the original) means not honest, immoral, as well as not decent. This is partly why it does not fit so well the situation of walking around naked (in Hungarian). (It is as if you meant to deceive or trap people: nem tisztességes = to promise something when you know that there is no way you could do it or to do less than you are paid for/expected/agreed, etc.)

    The verb (above) illik is usually translated by fit or match into English - although in the sentence above it may probably be best translated by do (It doesn't do to/You are not supposed to walk around...). So it has become the "direct" way to express "in/decency" (nem/illik).

    In fact, the problem is when "decent" is used in the sense of "respecting others" in one way or another...
    The question: Are you decent? (= Are you dressed? Can I come in?) could be an example for that.
    This is the sense you couldn't easily use any of the words connected to tisztesség.
    I can imagine something like this if I wanted to use the word at all price - although it is a little bit forced: Tisztességesen fel vagy öltözve? (something like: Are you dressed properly?)
    Really, in such a case you would express yourself in a completely different way in Hungarian.
    (Just the question: Bejöhetek? implies everything. If you wanted to be absolutely clear, you'd ask directly and clearly, word by word 'are you dressed?'.)

    I don't know the main reason (if there is one) for this.
    The only thing I can think of is that the word '"tiszt" (in the sense of giving respect rather than officer, function - given above) is a bit old fashioned and went through a lot of evolution (plenty of words have come from it and we tend to use the more recent ones I get the impression), so our language created plenty of other ways of expressing the idea around and in connection with decent.
    Last edited: May 6, 2010
  14. sakvaka

    sakvaka Senior Member

    Finnish: hyvät tavat (good manners), sää(dy)llisyys, kunnollisuus (< 'kunto' ~ order, good condition).
  15. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I am sorry, but I did not realize making it negative changed the meaning that much. But I have often experienced in these areas that... nothing is simple. That is the reason why I felt the need to add this word to the other three. But when I now read your example ('Are you decent ?'), I even get the feeling that we use our word a little differently. (Aaarrrrhhhh)

    I think with us fatsoen(lijk) implies conforming to other people's, even bourgeois 'moral' standards, which is why it will seldom be used nowadays (since '68, I think) around here. I even think most people would not even associate that with other people's feelings, only with 'old-fashioned' rules. We would not consider - or at least call - them a matter of morals, I think. Yet, people around here do stick to those implicit rules , but they - so I think - prefer not to be reminded of that... But this may be purely cultural, typical of this or the Low Countries.

    Seeing Sakvaka's answer, I think we shall be needing good examples to make ourselves clear. So let me try, without negatives this time, though I notice that we will more often use the negative form*:
    1. Goed fatsoen (good Lord, now this does not seem to be a pleonasm) vereist [requires] dat je behoorlijk kleedt. [Good manners requires you to wear decent clothes.]
    2. Het is niet* fatsoenlijk in het openbaar te spuwen [to spit in public].

    I could not imagine a meaning of fatsoen here referring to order... I am quite curious now about Finnish-Ugrian reactions, and others !
    Last edited: May 6, 2010
  16. sakvaka

    sakvaka Senior Member

    Let's try again.

    Hyvät tavat edellyttävät, että käyttää säädyllisiä vaatteita.
    Ei ole hyvien tapojen mukaista syljeskellä julkisella paikalla.
    (it's not in accordance with good manners to spit around...)

    Eikö tässä ravintolassa saa kunnollista ruokaa? Can't I get decent food in this restaurant?

    Also: Millainen on kunnollinen kansalainen? What is a decent/respectable/good citizen like?

    Those meanings of kunto are old; today it signifies above all general condition and shape.
  17. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I am beginning to realize that we also have behoorlijk as an alternative for fatsoenlijk: 'behoren' means belonging (hij is waar hij behoort te zijn - he is where he belongs (to be)). Here again the basis is vague, common rules, let's say.

    Een fatsoenlijk burger sounds odd. If we mean 'a decent/respectable/good citizen',; we will say... rechtschapen ('created right', created honest, or something the like).

    (Oh, oh, this is more complex than I thought...)
  18. Orlin Banned

    Bulgarian also uses these words: порядъчен->порядъчност and приличен->приличие respectively. For the 2nd meaning of "decent" пристоен->пристойност are also possible.
  19. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I suddenly discovered that we can use these words as intensifiers: decently good, for example. But I'll turn that into another thread.
  20. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I also thought of betamelijk (adv/ tamelijk), meaning the same. [BTW: tame- refers to taming, not a coincidence]
  21. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    And lots of others, for example, «достойный», «хорошо ведёт себя» (with lots of substitutes for «хорошо»), etc. There is no direct translation, and often there is no translation at all, this adjective, like great many other words in English, is too peculiar from the Russian point of view and either needs to be paraphrased, or to be substituted by a similar adjective with its own pecularieties, not translatable into English.

    There are even more options for the word 'decent' being applied to things, which options are virtually countless.

    Yet another proof that there is nothing universal about concepts in different languages. :)
  22. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    What an interesting conclusion! But couldn't you say that the basic concept is universal (deep), but that its implementation (surface) is narrower? It reminds me of TGG grammar, and the later 'invention' of the semantic effect of surface transformations. I suppose from that one can draw two conclusions, depending on one's viewpoint: the glass is half empty or half full, both aspects of one reality.
  23. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    Sure, we all are humans, and there must be much in common in our minds. But the search for it by means of a language is like catching a black cat in the dark room, because words are not suited to address such things, not at all. They mean too much, and they mean very different cans of things in different languages; besides, whatever language we take, we always understand much more than is told, language is very imprecise.

    Well, I'm afraid we go rather off-topic on it. :)
  24. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Quite right, but there is something in common here: the idea of close or far (from the norm/ rule/standaard), of taming/ controlling, etc. I think that is universal (rule vs. breach of rule, digression, deviance, etc.) - and not off-thread. Don't you think?
  25. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    Yes, and the common is determined by your own specification:
    But how much is different! By the way, none of the Russian words suggested really reminds of 'some upper class' that would 'impose' the standards (the closest is «достойный», I think, but usually this word is used in other meanings, not this one; and, instead of 'imposing' the rules, it talks of compliance to them).

    By the way, some explanations that I forgot to add before:
    - хорошо ведёт себя: 'conducts himself well', = 'behaves well';
    - достойный: 'forstanding', ~ 'one who reaches to stand there';
    - пристойный: 'perstanding', ~ 'one who stands where it's right to stand';
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2012
  26. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Hi TK,

    Now that I went through the thread once again, I realize I gave you the Greek rendering for decency as a behavioral concept; a decent person however is neither «ευπρεπής» [efpre'pis] (masc. & fem.) nor «κόσμιος» ['kozmios] (masc.) or ['kozmi.a] (fem.)*, but «αξιοπρεπής» [aksi.o.pre'pis] (masc. & fem.) which is an ancient adj. «ἀξιοπρεπής» ăksĭŏprĕ'pēs (masc. fem.) --> lit. proper, becoming, in MG, decent, dignified. Compound, Classical fem. noun «ἀξία» ă'ksiă & «ἀκτία» ă'ktiă --> worth, value, dignity (PIE base *h₂eǵ-, to lead, cast, drive) + Classical verb «πρέπω» 'prĕpō --> to resemble, fit, beseem (PIE base *per-/*prep-, around, through)

    *well, decent persons are these two too, but you know what I mean
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2012
  27. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thanks, both. I suppose even this idea of kosm- refers to some underlying authority (?) allowing us to judge whether K or not, be it a Freudian SuperEgo, a cultural standard system, ...

    But your reaction shows indeed that it is a broad... concept, maybe too broad.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2012

Share This Page