5

We have following dialog from the movie Inception (2010):

Arthur: Eames, I am impressed.

Eames: Your condescension, as always, is much appreciated, Arthur, thank you.

I can't get the point of what Eames said. Of course, I was trying to find condescension and appreciated in a dictionary.

So, there is the only one possible meaning for condescension. Now, I assume that appreciated means to recognize how good someone or something is and to value him, her, or it. But when I tried to couple these meanings I've found it perfectly nonsensical. Did Eames recognize that Arthur is good? ... Or what? What's that got to do with Artur telling Eames that he's impressed?

11

You have two somewhat conflicting answers already:

  • Wichita Steve, understanding condescension in its original sense, says that Eames acknowledges Arthur's "courtesy" in praising an inferior.

  • user3169, echoed by Toby Yuretich, understands condescension in its usual modern sense and says that Eames pointedly rebukes Arthur's "patronizing behavior".

I think both of these readings are true and pertinent.

Arthur and Eames have in fact the sort of friendly rivalry in which each regards himself as the other's superior in some respects but values the other's superiority in other respects. This relationship is sustained by adopting a teasing tone toward each other, in which genuine regard is disguised as apparent mockery.

So Eames' response actually operates on two levels. On the overt level, Eames' use of condescension subverts his appreciation and transforms it into irony: he dismisses Arthur's compliment as patronizing. But on the covert level, both Arthur's "condescension" and Eames' rejection are part of the 'game' they play; in fact, both Arthur's compliment and Eames' appreciation are genuine.

  • I think you're right. I didn't initially recognize the (unattributed) text to Inception, so my first thought was to interpret it as your sense #1 (I thought it might be a Victorian text). For reasons that escape me, even though condescend has indeed shifted in meaning, I rarely hear the actual word condescension with the modern sense - people usually complain about someone else's condescending manner/tone/attitude, rather than condescension. It's a clever exchange. – FumbleFingers Oct 25 '14 at 22:06
  • @FumbleFingers I still can't get the point what's thank you got to do with the context. Is it sarcasm? So, Eames's already shown that he rebuked Arthur's sarcasm by saying your condescencesion is much appreciated, if I understand correctly. So that thank you adds one more level to sarcasm, does it? It's all said to taunt Arthur as much as possible... right? And as you clearly noted, it's from Inception, sure. – Dmitrii Bundin Oct 26 '14 at 10:05
  • @Dmitry Fucintv: You misunderstand the "sarcastic" element in the interchange. It's always possible Eames is being sarcastic when he says he's impressed, but no-one is considering that here. It's Arthur who's (possibly) being sarcastic when he says he appreciates Eames deigning to acknowledge/praise whatever he (Arthur) has just done. And since he's already said that he appreciates his efforts being acknowledged, "Thank you" is little more than repetition (for emphasis, if you like, but it's really just following normal conversational conventions). – FumbleFingers Oct 26 '14 at 13:01
  • I do not think it makes any sense to consider the archaic meaning of the word, for a movie that came out in 2010, that has a contemporaneous or near-future setting, and in which the characters quoted show no other tendency to use or even reference archaic language. This is pure sarcasm. – KRyan Oct 26 '14 at 17:39
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    @KRyan Condescension, in the "gracious", is not "archaic" - it's just not as common as the "patronizing" sense. "Patronize" exhibits the same split: a "patronizing" tone and "patronizing" local merchants. – StoneyB Oct 26 '14 at 18:14
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It's hard to be completely sure without more context, but I strongly suspect that Eames' answer is intended as sarcasm.

That means that meaning of the sentence as a whole is the exact opposite of the literal meaning of the words used - in this case, it would be something like "That comment was condescending, and I don't appreciate it."

'Condescension' carries fairly strong negative overtones - not just 'I think I'm better than you', but 'I think I'm better than you because you're stupid/incompetent/etc'. If Eames really did appreciate Arthur's behaviour, I would expect him to choose a different word to describe it; in this case, possibly 'Your praise is much appreciated.'

The use of that negative term, and the addition of the unnecessary phrases 'as always' and 'thank you' to the sentence, all point to the intended meaning being something more complex than just a straightforward 'I appreciate that'-type comment.

In addition, this general construction is a common response to percieved insults in English - especially to insults with a condescending tone. Sarcasm (and double-meanings in general) are often considered to be more sophisticated use of language than a straightforward say-what-you-mean response. Making a sarcastic response to a percieved insult is therefore both to show that the insult was recognised (and not appreciated) and also a signal that the speaker can use advanced language skills (and therefore an attempt to raise their own status in response to the condescension).

3

Your condescension, as always, is much appreciated, Arthur, thank you.

appreciate means to recognize or be thankful for.

condescension means a patronizing behavior.

Regarding patronize, see patronize sense 2, "to be kind or helpful to, but in a haughty or snobbish way, as if dealing with an inferior".

So you could rewrite your example:

Your patronizing behavior, as always, is really recognized/understood, Arthur, thank you.

0

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/condescension

voluntary descent from one's rank or dignity in intercourse with an inferior; courtesy toward inferiors.

Arthur considers himself the superior to Eames. For Arthur to say to Eames that he is impressed is a great compliment. Eames acknowledges the courtesy and he also expresses that he realizes Arthur does not normally give such compliments to the lower rank such as himself.

There may also be some sarcasm to Eames statement. Eames can also be implying that he isn't so inferior as Arthur might think.

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