Posted by Jay Livingston
I hate to see a good word fade and get folded into another word that doesn’t mean quite the same thing.
A Twitter link yesterday took me to a sociology blog whose post consisted entirely of a quotation from Frederick Douglass. It contained this sentence:
|Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning.|
Depreciate agitation? Surely Douglass must have said “deprecate.” That little “i,” a slender stroke and dot barely noticeable, makes a difference. Or at least it used to. In Douglass’s time, to deprecate meant to disapprove strongly, and depreciate meant to reduce in value. We depreciate assets. We deprecate sin.
“Deprecate” as a percentage of both words took a dive starting around 1970, falling from 40% to 20%.
Still, when I searched for both kinds of agitation, Goggle returned more than three times as many “depreciates” as “deprecates.”