The difference between abase, degrade, demean and humiliate

kastner

Senior Member
Mandarin, Wu dialect
Hi guys, I would like to know what's difference between abase, degrade, demean and humiliate? Thanks in advance.
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hello kastner.
    If you set out for us how you find these words confusing, preferably by giving examples, it may be possible to help you.

    Otherwise, your best resource is to use any of the many online dictionaries. The WordReference dictionary will give you definitions and also offer links to other dictionaries if you need them.

    abase
    degrade
    demean
    humiliate
     

    kastner

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Wu dialect
    Thanks, I find somehow confusing because in the dictionary they use one word among them to define the other. All those words can mean "lower (in dignity)" right? then what's the difference? Are there any cases you have to use one of the words but not the rest? I know it's hard to explain, sorry.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Here is another set of definitions - these are taken from the OED.
    They don't help a great deal :)
    abase
    To lower in rank, office, condition, or character; to humble, humiliate; often with the sense of degrade, make base.

    degrade
    To depose (a person) formally from his degree, rank, or position of honour as an act of punishment, as to degrade a knight, a military officer, a graduate of a university. To lower in estimation; to bring into dishonour or contempt.

    demean
    To lower in condition, status, reputation or character.

    humiliate
    To lower or depress the dignity or self-respect of; to subject to humiliation; to mortify.
    Personal thoughts on usage ...
    I can't imagine using abase. It has a somewhat archaic, biblical feel to it.
    Degrade seems to be related to power relationships, in which someone exercises power inappropriately.
    Demean ...
    Humiliate might appear in fairly light contexts. People might be humiliated by something trivial - and get over it very quickly. MrsP claims that she was humiliated to be seen walking along the river with me when I was wearing a red sweater and an orange shirt. I'm not suggesting ihumiliate can't be used in much more serious contexts, of course.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I agree with Panjo on the verb abase, and with the OED's sense make base. If I was ever to use it [unlikely], it would have a pretty strong sense of degradation to it: His lack of contact with other people only served to abase him: he wore no clothing, he ate scraps from dustbins, etc., i.e. it's reduced him to a kind of 'animal' level. I was going to say that the noun abasement doesn't sound so archaic / high literary, but now I'm not so sure.
    I'm very tempted to put the verb demean in the same category. But the adjective demeaning is pretty common.
     
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