Which Word Wednesday: Despise vs. Hate

By December 7, 2011 language No Comments

I know, I know. It’s Christmas. The season of love and joy. So this week’s Which Word Wednesday match up is not a good fit for the intended mood of the season.

But the entry caught my eye as I flipped through one of my word resource books today. And after reading the definitions for these two words, I found that I was using despise improperly. eek!! Certainly I can’t be the only one (?). Consider this my Christmas gift to you, that I would care enough to set us all straight. (ahem.)

Here are the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

despise :: verb
feel contempt or a deep repugnance for

hate :: verb
feel intense or passionate dislike for (someone)

It seems that despise is more about scorn and disapproval. I guess that could lead to the emotion of hate, but not necessarily. It may be that you despise something (disapprove of it) but you aren’t a complete hater. It’s also possible that you hate something but aren’t bitter toward it.

Ron Evans clarifies in his The Artful Nuance: “To hate is to dislike intensely but needn’t imply ‘looking down on’: ‘A man may hate another man for running away with his wife without despising him.’ ”1 And Dave Dowling gives us this example in The Wrong Word Dictionary: It seems people either love or hate mayonnaise on sandwiches.”2

My error is in using despise as a fancy form of hate. For example, I would say that people either love or despise mayonnaise on sandwiches, but this usage implies that people may feel scorn toward mayonnaise . . . which seems unlikely. (I’ve never heard anyone admit to bitterness toward mayonnaise.)

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What’s my WWW verdict? Despise and hate are not interchangeable. Especially when it comes to sandwiches.

What’s your verdict? Do you think despise and hate are interchangeable? Are you bitter toward sandwich condiments? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Ron Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 71.
2. Dave Dowling, The Wrong Word Dictionary (Oak Park, IL: Marion Street Press, 2005), 79.

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