con·​de·​scend·​ing | \ ˌkän-di-ˈsen-diŋ How to pronounce condescending (audio) \

Definition of condescending

: showing or characterized by a patronizing or superior attitude toward others

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Other Words from condescending

condescendingly \ ˌkän-​di-​ˈsen-​diŋ-​lē How to pronounce condescending (audio) \ adverb

What is the difference between condescending and patronizing?

Very few words in English have exactly the same meaning; even words which appear to be entirely synonymous often will be found to have small differences in certain contexts. The words condescending and patronizing present a fine example of this. At first glance these words appear to be defined somewhat circularly: condescending often has the word "patronizing" in its definition, and patronize is defined, in part, as “to adopt an air of condescension toward.”

But both of these words have specialized senses that lend a shade of meaning to their synonymous senses. Patronizing can mean "giving support to" or "being a customer of," suggesting that the "condescending" sense implies superiority gained through a donor-dependent relationship.

The verb condescend used to be free of any hint of the offensive superiority it usually suggests today. It could mean literally "to go or come down" or, figuratively, "to willingly lower oneself to another’s level," senses that are still occasionally encountered in writings on the Bible. The idea of self-consciously lowering oneself is implied in the "patronizing" sense of condescending.

Examples of condescending in a Sentence

The next big sequel to roll off the assembly line (awful, condescending phrase, but this is a case of what you have to do when the shoe fits) is going to be a sequel to "Rebecca," Daphne du Maurier's classic 1930's suspense novel. — Stephen King, New York Times Book Review, 6 June 1993 … when the picturesque was seen close up, the "happy poverty" of the peasant was not always happy. There was something unpleasantly condescending, an element of esthetic slumming in the tourist's or the artist's view of picturesqueness. — Anatole Broyard, New York Times Book Review, 1 Oct. 1989 I always imagined publishers were rather snarky and condescending and made a point of crabbing one's work, but he didn't a bit. — Elizabeth Bowen, letter, 19 Jan. 1923 His comments were offensive and condescending to us.
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Recent Examples on the Web To not recognize that or, worse, to disrespect it, is both condescending and simple-minded. Nancy Armour, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Senators critical of WNBA, NBA social justice efforts should stick to politics," 10 July 2020 Are these speakers being courteous or condescending? Annie Lane, oregonlive, "Dear Annie: Woman not happy being called ‘dear’ by strangers," 4 June 2020 Discuss the reasoning behind such recaps, and what could seem condescending becomes a stopgap. Gwen Moran, Fortune, "3 ways to manage conflict when you work remotely," 6 Apr. 2020 The two senators said the explanation from officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, was inadequate and condescending. Daniel Flatley,, "Senate Votes to Curb Trump’s War Powers Over Soleimani Strike," 10 May 2020 Behold: The slightly condescending, often laughable Valentine’s Day memes. Stephanie Toone, ajc, "14 of the best Valentine’s Day memes on the internet right now," 13 Feb. 2020 That position, according to colleagues, revealed his ability to maintain patience under pressure and to avoid a condescending tone — even when having to explain the most basic foreign policy axioms to his boss. Lara Jakes, New York Times, "Uniting Trumpers, Never Trumpers and Democrats With a New Deputy at the State Dept.," 21 Feb. 2020 Writing critics off as a gang of right-wing troglodytes, the standard tactic of many of Pope Francis’s defenders, is not just derisive and condescending. Francis X. Maier, National Review, "Pope Francis’s Respectful Critics Deserve Better Than Scorn," 20 Mar. 2020 During a deposition, Gates was combative and condescending to his interrogators, showing the public a confrontational aspect of his personality that his dorky appearance may have masked. Jonathan Vanian, Fortune, "Bill Gates cuts formal ties with Microsoft, marking the end of an era," 13 Mar. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'condescending.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of condescending

1660, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for condescending

see condescend

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Time Traveler for condescending

Time Traveler

The first known use of condescending was in 1660

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Statistics for condescending

Cite this Entry

“Condescending.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for condescending



English Language Learners Definition of condescending

disapproving : showing that you believe you are more intelligent or better than other people

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Comments on condescending

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