Make Your Editor Cry: Contemptible vs. Contemptuous

Make Your Editor Cry: Contemptible vs. Contemptuous

Something contemptible is worthy of scorn, like the contemptible jerk who talks in a theater; but contemptuous is the look you give that jerk who talks in the theater.

Both words turn contempt into an adjective. There’s a legal meaning of contempt which is “willful disobedience to” or “open disrespect of” a court, judge, or legislative body that can come with subsequent fines or jail time, but hopefully you’ll never need to know that definition.

For our purposes, contempt is a noun that describes the feeling that someone is rightfully beneath you, or the state of being despised.

According to Webster, the -ible ending means “able to.” Contemptible, then, means “able to be scorned, worthy of contempt.” It refers to the person or thing the contempt is aimed at, like the contemptible jerk who talks in a theater

Someone or something that’s contemptible receives harsh judgment—and deserves it. Think of your instinctive desire to bring the contemptible coward who ate the last M&M or the contemptible lowlife who ate your lunch out of the break room fridge to justice, for example.

Examples:

Everything which retarded the attainment of that end was contemptible in his eyes.

Many nobles, whose lands had been wasted during the war, flocked to the little capitals to make their way by contemptible court services.

If you insult someone or dismiss them in a hateful way, you’re being contemptuous. According to Webster, the –ous ending means “full of,” so contemptuous means “full of contempt, showing scorn.” It refers to the person or thing showing the scorn or disdain, like the contemptuous look you give that jerk who talks in the theater.

The difference between being hateful and contemptuous is subtle. It involves the scorn, the disdain.

Examples:

She did not sit down, but just looked at him with a contemptuous smile, waiting for the valet to leave.

With a contemptuous remark an audience member took a handful of popcorn and tossed it toward the offending ringing cell phone.

As adjectives, the difference between contemptible and contemptuous, is that contemptible is “deserving contempt” while contemptuous is “showing or demonstrating contempt” by expressing disdain or scorn, or otherwise showing a lack of respect.

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