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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Laura chats Irina’s friends, who are vaguely snobby and maddeningly condescending. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 8 Mar. 2022 Rifkin is not part of the movie industry, but his parasitic relationship to film culture is pompous and condescending. Armond White, National Review, 4 Feb. 2022 Layers of satire ensure no one who appears on the panel — the condescending White professor, the antagonizing host, Paper Boi himself — goes unchecked. Washington Post, 15 Oct. 2021 To not recognize that or, worse, to disrespect it, is both condescending and simple-minded. Nancy Armour, USA TODAY, 10 July 2020 Are these speakers being courteous or condescending? Annie Lane, oregonlive, 4 June 2020 Discuss the reasoning behind such recaps, and what could seem condescending becomes a stopgap. Gwen Moran, Fortune, 6 Apr. 2020 The two senators said the explanation from officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, was inadequate and condescending. Daniel Flatley,, 10 May 2020 Behold: The slightly condescending, often laughable Valentine’s Day memes. Stephanie Toone, ajc, 13 Feb. 2020 See More

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.

First Known Use of condescending

1660, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for condescending

see condescend

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The first known use of condescending was in 1660

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Cite this Entry

“Condescending.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2022.

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