Definition of abdicate
- The king was forced to abdicate.
- abdicate a throne
- abdicate a responsibility
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Several words may be confused with abdicate through either a similarity of sound or of meaning. Among these are abrogate, abjure, and resign. All of these words have multiple meanings that are quite distinct from one another, yet each also has a degree of semantic overlap that renders them nearly synonymous with at least one of the others.
Abdicate is most often used to describe a head of state or member of a royal family voluntarily renouncing a position. It may also refer to the act of failing to fulfill a duty a responsibility. It shares this second meaning with abrogate (although the “failing to fulfill one’s duty” sense of this word is more common in the United Kingdom than in the United States). The senses of abrogate most commonly found are “to annul” or “to do away with.”
Abjure may be used to mean “to abstain from” or “to give up,” but often is used with the meaning of “to disclaim formally or renounce upon oath” (it comes from the Latin jurare, meaning “to swear”).
And finally, resign is often used with the meaning of “to give up one’s office or position.”
Despite the similarities among these words, they tend to be used in fairly specific settings. You would not typically tell your employer that you are abdicating your position in order to look for a better job; you would say that you are resigning. And when the king of a country renounces his claim on the throne to marry his one true love, he would be said to abdicate, rather than resign, his position.
Give it up. English includes many words for the process of throwing in the towel, especially for relinquishing a job or elected office. Abdicate, a derivative of the prefix ab- (meaning "from," "away," or "off") and the Latin verb dicare (meaning to "proclaim"), has been used primarily for those who give up sovereign power or who evade a very serious responsibility (such as parental responsibility). Renounce is often used as a synonym of abdicate, but it adds to that term the suggestion that an individual is giving up something as a sacrifice to achieve a far greater end. Resign is another option when you are describing a more matter-of-fact departure from a job, office, or trust.
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