Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Today, I read an article, and one sentence talked about

treating other people with dignity and respect

I had thought I understood the difference between the words dignity and respect. But then I realized that I didn't understand — at least in the above context. I checked out the definitions on dictionary.com, m-w.com, etc. and I still didn't get it.

What is difference between the two words dignity and respect in this context?

share|improve this question
    
I think it's semantically odd, because the only way I can make sense of the dignity part is to take it to mean "treating other people in a way which upholds their dignity". –  Colin Fine Jun 10 '13 at 22:54
    
I think you ought to include some of the better definitions that you found within this question. It's a courtesy. Otherwise, we'll all have to check out the definitions, same way you did. –  J.R. Jun 11 '13 at 0:57
    
@Colin Fine: I think to treat with dignity is most easily understood as in a dignified manner, corresponding to in a respectful manner. If you start by assuming you're giving respect, the counterpart doesn't really work with dignity. –  FumbleFingers Jun 11 '13 at 3:07
1  
Every time I read this question, I imagine Rodney Dangerfield saying, "I can't get no dignity." –  J.R. Jun 11 '13 at 14:27
    
@J.R. That's it exactly. –  MετάEd Jun 11 '13 at 18:51
add comment

3 Answers

Dignity is honorableness, a quality of the person being elevated. Respect is a viewpoint, a quality of the person doing the elevating.

In your example context, there is considerable overlap of connotation, and one could be used in place of the other. In other contexts, it would be hard to do so. For example, we can refer to the dignity (honorableness) of an action, but can’t meaningfully substitute respect. And we can refer to things differing in some respect (from some viewpoint), but can’t meaningfully substitute dignity.

Dignity identifies a worthy, high, and honorable condition. When person A treats person B with dignity, it means person A acknowledges person B’s dignity (worth or value). This is also seen in the verb dignify: if I say “I refuse to dignify that with an answer”, I mean I refuse to treat the question as worth answering: it’s not me, but the question itself that lacks dignity.¹

Respect identifies the act of paying attention or proper consideration, and by extension the act of viewing someone as worthy of such consideration. When person A treats person B with respect, it means person A takes proper notice of person B, according person B due care and honor. This is also seen in the verb to respect: if I say “I refuse to respect that decision”, I mean I refuse to treat the decision as worthy of respect: it’s me, not the decision, that lacks respect.²

It is helpful to look at the etymology of these words, because their meanings reflect their history. Dignity it comes from the Latin noun dignus, “worth”, and is related to other valuing words such as dignitary, dainty, deign, disdain, and indignation.³ Respect comes from the Latin verb respicere, literally “look back at”, and is related to other viewing words such as spectator, spectacles, and inspect.

share|improve this answer
add comment

It might be easier to have answered this question had you given a little more detail about the context in which you read it - but, with that proviso, here's my two-pennyworth!

I agree that there is considerable overlap between the two terms, dignity and respect, yet they do often be seem to be used together. One context that is fairly common and topical in the UK at the moment is in the treatment of patients - and particularly elderly patients - in hospital.

In that particular context, I tend to think of dignity as referring to the manner in which they are 'physically' treated or handled, e.g. handling them in a private cubicle with curtains properly drawn, treating their physical body with respect and privacy as far as possible even when having to help them dress/undress or having to help with private and/or intimate functions.

On the other side, I think of respect as 'dignity' for their 'inner person', for their wishes and desires: listening to what they want and to their preferences, and responding to them, even if you cannot meet their wishes or they are inappropriate for medial reasons - not just doing what you think is necessary and ignoring what they are saying. Give them at least a moment of time, rather than ignore them completely.

That's how I distinguish between the two in that particular type of circumstance: whether others agree, or can explain the differences in clearer terms, ....

share|improve this answer
    
To given more context, the article is here: newsday.com/news/region-state/…. The sentence is: "As mayor of the city, I expect that all police officers will act professionally and treat all persons with dignity and respect," Boughton wrote. Thanks –  pnvn Jun 10 '13 at 23:39
    
Thanks. I won't attempt to comment on US usage in that context, except to say that it appears that both physical and verbal treatment by the police officer were questionable and it's again possible that there could be an implied difference. Equally, it's possible that the mayor was just using a common expression without thinking about it fully. –  TrevorD Jun 10 '13 at 23:55
    
Thanks for taking the time to respond! StackExchange doesn't let me mark your response as answer because I don't have enough points/reputation. –  pnvn Jun 11 '13 at 0:10
    
@pnvn I do not believe you need to earn reputation before you can accept an answer to your question. See: meta.stackoverflow.com/a/5235/171321 –  MετάEd Jun 28 '13 at 3:49
add comment

Dignity is giving the person the space not to be teased, prompted, provoked or delighted with guessing their response. Respect is listening to their opinion and allow that to be that person's position.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to English.se. When giving an answer it's best to provide sources! You can also use paragraphs. –  virmaior Feb 12 at 1:14
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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