2

talk down to somebody ​to speak to somebody as if they were less important or intelligent than you

put somebody down (informal) to make somebody look or feel stupid, especially in front of other people

When do we say "he talked down to her" and "he put her down"?

Are they interchangeable?

2
  • 1
    The two definitions you gave are different, so no, they're not interchangeable. What exactly are you confused about here?
    – gotube
    Sep 25 at 0:27
  • @gotube, if A says to B, "your drawing is terrible", is that A is putting B down? But if A says to B, "your drawing is terrible. My drawing is way better than you", is that A is talking down to B? That is what I am confused because we change the sentence a bit, then we have to use different phases.
    – Tom
    Sep 25 at 3:38
7

No, they are not interchangeable: if you read the definitions that you have provided, they are clearly different. That said, I disagree with the definitions that you have quoted.

Talk down to somebody means speaking to somebody in very simple terms, as if they are a lot less intelligent than you.

As far as I'm concerned, it's not at all about acting as if somebody is less important than you. As anotherdave commented, a good expression for that is looking down your nose at someone.

putting somebody down means saying or implying bad things about somebody, usually in front of other people. It often involves criticizing something that they have just said, but can also involve saying or implying that they are lazy, stupid, unfit, unattractive, boring...

As the definition you quoted says, put somebody down is informal, and definitions of informal expressions are sometimes less precise in their usage and interpretation than more formal expressions.

6
  • 1
    Agree with your take on talking down to someone — I'd call talking to someone as if they're of no importance "looking down your nose at someone" Sep 24 at 10:31
  • 1
    You can put someone down when they are not present, and they do not even need to know about it. Sep 24 at 11:27
  • 3
    We should be careful here: "a put down" is an insult. HOWEVER "I am going to to put her down" means "euthanize" i.e. kill
    – Yorik
    Sep 24 at 18:46
  • I disagree with a lot of these answers and comments. "Putting somebody down", though subject to opinion as phrases commonly are, usually implies feelings/emotions and that the person you are "putting down" (not euthanizing), feels bad. I actually don't think you can put someone down that isn't there to know about it. - That would be just "talking bad about someone behind their back". I think the OP definition is spot on. And "talking down to somebody" - is literally as the OP definition says again. It can very much be about speaking as if someone is unimportant OR unintelligent OR inferior.
    – Eric
    Sep 24 at 20:13
  • As far as "looking down your nose" goes, yes that is an action, but the OP definition for "talking down to somebody" literally states speaking and by its own definition can imply dialog that suggests the speaker thinks the other person is inferior.
    – Eric
    Sep 24 at 20:15
4

If you talk down to someone you are trying to be kind to them (or pretending that you are), but treating them like a child or as though they were not very intelligent, perhaps explaining something in very simple terms.

If you put someone down, you make some clever comment which is obviously intended to make them feel stupid.

2
  • if A says to B, "your drawing is terrible", is that A is putting B down? But if A says to B, "your drawing is terrible. My drawing is way better than you", is that A is talking down to B? If we change the sentence a bit, then we have to use different phases, right?
    – Tom
    Sep 25 at 3:46
  • 1
    If A says mockingly that B's drawing of trees looks like a row of cabbages, A is putting B down. Assuming B is an adult or teenager, if A starts to tell them how to draw in words more suitable for speaking to a child, they are talking down to B. (Perhaps drawing isn't the best example, as some people really can't draw, but imagine they were explaining some fairly ordinary task.) Sep 25 at 8:07
1

I think the second doesn't necessarily mean to make somebody look or feel stupid by saying something. It can be a non-verbal action. So as far as I can tell, the difference should be that the first is only about saying something, and the second one can be any action.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.