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In the following dialogue, is the second sentence correct?

"Thank you for not making fun of me."
"I would never mock you or diminish you."

I checked the Oxford dictionary and it defines diminish as Make or become less.

Can I use the word in reference to a person in this context?

11

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

My above quote referencing the use of diminish is from "For whom the bell tolls" written by John Donne, who lived from 1572 to 1631.

"Diminish" is rarely used in this context today, although it is valid. I would write your second sentence as

I would never mock you or put you down.

Or even

I would never mock you or disrespect you.

  • I would never call you a clod. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 11 '18 at 19:49
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo nice observation but as you know, in Donne's work, he is making the analogy of increasingly large pieces of land being lost: but then to him, the death any person is greater than the loss of any of those. – Weather Vane Jun 11 '18 at 19:53
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    I like your Donne quote, and I'm not arguing with your answer. Still, I thought a more contemporary usage might be useful for the learner; I found this one: "What you do and who you choose to spend time with either celebrate and uphold you in a good light or diminish you. Choose wisely." (from Self-Esteem For Dummies, S.R. Smith & V. Harte, 2014) – J.R. Jun 11 '18 at 21:06
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    @J.R. thank you - my answer does suggest contemporary usage. – Weather Vane Jun 11 '18 at 21:10
  • @WV - It sure does, but I thought an example would be a nice complement to your answer. Btw, I also agree that "put you down" is a very apt paraphrase. And it might be worth noting that diss (or is it dis?) is a slang word that might work, too – though learners should be cautioned that it's quite informal. – J.R. Jun 11 '18 at 21:21
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The most common way of phrasing this would be to include the verb "try":

I would never mock you or try to diminish you.

This is a fairly common usage, which sounds like what you want to say. Of course you can say it without the "try" but that implies that you actually have the ability to make the other person "less" simply by making fun of them, so it would be a rude/insensitive choice when you want to be nice.

Some similar examples from around the web:

“They tried to diminish me and Joe, and the whole point of their character assassination was to divert attention from the real issues.”
Valerie Plame, quoted in "Valerie Plame Wilson: the housewife CIA spy who was 'fair game' for Bush", The Telegraph, 15 Feb 2011


When someone curses you out or insults you profane language, he is trying to diminish you.
Stuart Schneiderman, "The Civil and the Profane" blog entry, December 19, 2013


You’ve had more than enough of those who tried to diminish you. These guys always tried to be above you. They insulted you, they patronized you and diminished you in all possible ways because that was good for their egos.
Selma June, "A Man Who Thinks You Are Worthy Will Come Along", Her Way, March 09, 2018

  • You might as well say 'criticize' is not idiomatic because there are lots of quotes where people discuss other people 'trying to criticize' someone. Trying to do something and doing something are not the same thing. – Pete Kirkham Jun 12 '18 at 10:04
  • @PeteKirkham I didn't mean that the original version was entirely unidiomatic, but I can see how it sounded that way. I've added a bit of explanation; does it make sense now? (I would make a distinction between "diminish" and words like "criticize" that are somewhat self-effecting: An aggressor can attempt to diminish or hurt someone with insults, but that person might not actually be bothered or notice. In contrast, once I say "X is s stupid head who can't dance" I've both insulted and criticized X whether X is affected or even knows I've said it.) (Sorry if you were pinged twice!) – 1006a Jun 12 '18 at 14:06
  • If ever you've heard the phrase 'don't you know who I am?' then the speaker will have been diminished by someone, usually without that someone trying. But usually when people are talking about it, they are talking about deliberate cases and so 'try' gets used a lot. – Pete Kirkham Jun 13 '18 at 13:43
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I think there is a difference. Mock, belittle, disparage, disrespect, put you down, diss: these are all things I can do to make you seem less worthy than you are. Diminish, in the sense Donne uses it, means you actually become less worthy.

"For all his greatness however, he was diminished by his last years and by Churchill's disastrous decision to recall him to the Admiralty soon after the outbreak of the First World War. " - book review on Amazon

"He was able to handle Martinez with ease — yes, he was diminished, but no, that didn't stop..." - article discussing whether a boxer is likely to win his next contest.

These quotes use "diminish" to mean "become less". It is harder to find uses where it means "to make less", and where the subject and object are both persons ("I would never diminish you"). In none of these examples is someone diminished merely because of what people say about them.

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Hmmm ... By a dictionary definition it sounds valid, but I've never heard a native speaker say that. People will say "diminish your reputation" or "diminish your status", but not simply "diminish you". I wouldn't say it's wrong, and people would understand what you meant, but it's just not how people commonly use the word.

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In terms of grammar your sentence makes perfect sense. It is possible to diminish a person. Generally however, an english speaking person wouldn’t use the word diminish and would use something else. Maybe replace it with something more common like “shame” or “tease”. If you want the meaning to stay the same but sound better try “belittle”.

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"I will diminish and go to the west" --Lady Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkein

Using this as an example, I'd say it's acceptable if you're a writer to use the word this way, if what you intend is to create a very formal (archaic) character. That said, there is some cross-over between the ideas of archaic English, and more "high" English among intellectuals who aren't exactly concerned with what is used in laymen circles.

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diminish might be used in that manner in a book about interpersonal relationships intended for lay audiences ("popular psychology") or in a psychology text.

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I would never mock or belittle you.

I would never mock or disparage you.

belittle

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