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June 4, 2013

This sounds self-deprecating of me, and perhaps it is, but I don’t use the phrase self-deprecating correctly. That is to say, I use it as everyone else uses it; but it’s not the correct phrase for what I want to express. I use it to describe someone who undervalues themselves, and the correct phrase for that is self-depreciating.

I was told this by an English teacher at a college where I worked, about fifteen years ago (his name was Peter Arnold, incidentally). As soon as he said it I realised he was right. Because to deprecate means to deplore – and a person who is ‘self-deprecating’ isn’t deploring themselves. They are under-appreciating themselves. And the opposite of appreciate is depreciate.

But we can’t go back now. We all say self-deprecating; the correct form sounds wrong. And all because, presumably, someone made a spelling or typing error many decades ago. 

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