dis·​crim·​i·​na·​tion di-ˌskri-mə-ˈnā-shən How to pronounce discrimination (audio)
: prejudiced or prejudicial outlook, action, or treatment
racial discrimination
: the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually
: the quality or power of finely distinguishing
the film viewed by those with discrimination
: the act of making or perceiving a difference : the act of discriminating
a bloodhound's scent discrimination
psychology : the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently
discriminational adjective

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Discriminating Among Meanings of Discrimination

Discrimination has senses with neutral, positive, and negative connotations. On the one hand, it can refer to "the act (or power) of distinguishing" or to "good taste, refinement." These meanings, sometimes reinforced with modifiers (as in a fine or a nice discrimination), stress an ability to perceive differences as an index of unusual intelligence. On the other hand, when the perception of difference is marked by invidious distinction or hostility, the word (often followed by against) takes on very negative overtones, as in the senses "act of discriminating categorically rather than individually" (discrimination against women, age discrimination) and "a prejudiced outlook or course of action" (racial discrimination). The original, neutral sense of discrimination, "the act of distinguishing," came into English by the early 17th century, followed by the positive one associated with superior discernment in the 18th century. Discrimination in the "prejudice" sense has been in use since the early 19th century, almost 200 years ago.

Choose the Right Synonym for discrimination

discernment, discrimination, perception, penetration, insight, acumen mean a power to see what is not evident to the average mind.

discernment stresses accuracy (as in reading character or motives or appreciating art).

the discernment to know true friends

discrimination stresses the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent.

the discrimination that develops through listening to a lot of great music

perception implies quick and often sympathetic discernment (as of shades of feeling).

a novelist of keen perception into human motives

penetration implies a searching mind that goes beyond what is obvious or superficial.

lacks the penetration to see the scorn beneath their friendly smiles

insight suggests depth of discernment coupled with understanding sympathy.

a documentary providing insight into the plight of the homeless

acumen implies characteristic penetration combined with keen practical judgment.

a director of reliable box-office acumen

Examples of discrimination in a Sentence

The law prohibits discrimination in hiring. He sued the company for age discrimination. the animal's impressive scent discrimination
Recent Examples on the Web The federal government opened discrimination investigations into half a dozen universities, including Columbia and Cornel, after there were complaints about antisemitic and anti-Muslim harassment. Michael Levenson, New York Times, 20 Nov. 2023 This is often due to discrimination from both social and political forces, as well as gender dysphoria. Kiara Alfonseca, ABC News, 18 Nov. 2023 Anyone can file a complaint alleging such discrimination. Collin Binkley, Fortune, 17 Nov. 2023 Groups representing both the Jewish and Palestinian communities have reported increases in harassment and discrimination in the weeks following the Hamas attack. Kristen Taketa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 13 Nov. 2023 Anyone who purchases this book will be enraptured and inspired by Lowe’s ambition to become one of the world’s foremost seamstresses during a period of overt racial discrimination, segregation, and sexism. Candace Smith, Essence, 13 Nov. 2023 It can be used to describe a broad range of discrimination against female consumers. Murphy Zhao, NBC News, 11 Nov. 2023 The country was outraged, and in July 1946, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, abolishing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin in the United States armed forces. Brennon Dixson, Los Angeles Times, 11 Nov. 2023 Apple must pay up to $25 million under an agreement with the Justice Department to settle charges of hiring and recruitment discrimination. Ben Glickman, WSJ, 9 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'discrimination.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


see discriminate

First Known Use

1621, in the meaning defined at sense 3a

Time Traveler
The first known use of discrimination was in 1621

Dictionary Entries Near discrimination

Cite this Entry

“Discrimination.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discrimination. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


dis·​crim·​i·​na·​tion dis-ˌkrim-ə-ˈnā-shən How to pronounce discrimination (audio)
: the act of perceiving distinctions
: the ability to make fine distinctions
: the treating of some people better than others without any fair or proper reason
laws to end racial discrimination
-shnəl How to pronounce discrimination (audio)

Medical Definition


dis·​crim·​i·​na·​tion dis-ˌkrim-ə-ˈnā-shən How to pronounce discrimination (audio)
: the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently : differentiation
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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