Word: patronize

Pronunciation: PAY-trə-nyz / PA-trə-nyz

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Today’s vocabulary post features another word with a wide gap between the time I first heard it and the time I learned what it meant. When I was a kid, I would often hear people refer to others’ actions as “patronizing” or tell someone not to “patronize” them, but it wasn’t until I was a little older that I even bothered to look the word up. Until then, I relied on context to help me understand what was being implied, though in truth it was fairly easy to figure out anyway, given the air of condescension that always came with the word.

To “patronize” someone is to treat them with a phony sort of kindness that poorly masks a sense of superiority on the part of the speaker. Generally used in the adjective form “patronizing”, the word is derived from the Old English word “patron”, which in turn traces back to the Latin noun patronus, meaning “defender” or “protector”. This word is derived from the noun pater, which means “father”.

Despite being the most common meaning, bearing a condescending attitude is not the only definition for “patronize”. Note that in some cases, it refers to the act of frequenting a store, theater, restaurant or other establishment as a customer. As a sub-definition, it can also mean to “give encouragement and financial support to a person or a cause”, generally an artist or organization. Most people probably associate the word with its first definition, though, so for general fiction, you’re more likely to use that one than the others. If you often write dialogue involving one character talking down to another, then “patronize” is definitely a good verb to remember for your stories! Good luck!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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