In the course of my work I have to report on the way I have conducted myself with regard to people who may be of limited capacity or who have learning disabilities. I am required to indicate in my reports how I have treated people in difficult circumstances and, on occasion, in situations of conflict.

In doing so, I need to express the old meaning (the original Middle English meaning) of 'condescend' which now has the meaning (Google Dictionary) 'having or showing an attitude of patronizing superiority'.

The old meaning [Oxford Dictionary of English 2nd Ed] is 'to defer' or, literally, 'to give way'.

The word is used in the 1611 King James bible : 'condescend to those of low estate' where the 17th century translators have used it to express a Greek verb συναπαγομια, sunapagomai , literally 'to be led by', (sun and pagomai) which appears to bear the same meaning as that conveyed by the Middle English definition of 'condescend'.

What word other than 'condescend' - whose meaning appears to have modified - can I use to convey the attitude of deliberately restricting one own's speech, mannerism and deportment in order to accommodate the capacities of someone who is naturally more limited in their mental and psychological ability ?

  • 1
    What's wrong with using "defer"?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Oct 16, 2017 at 13:36
  • 2
    I'm not sure I understand. Do you want a modern word that captures the old situation? So you don't want synonyms of 'condescend' or 'patronize'? what about 'accommodate'? Have you checked a thesaurus for all these? Also, are you looking for a euphemism for condescend', or for a word that is accurate for communicating with the mentally restricted? 'simplified speech'?
    – Mitch
    Oct 16, 2017 at 13:40
  • @KitZ.Fox 'Defer' means to give place totally; I am in a Supervisory situation, so am unable to do that. I have to maintain physical control of the environment. But my manner and speech require to accommodate.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 16, 2017 at 13:49
  • 1
    What are your objections to "adapt" and "accommodate"? Oct 16, 2017 at 13:57
  • 1
    @NigelJ Why does it have to be a single word?
    – Spagirl
    Oct 16, 2017 at 14:36

3 Answers 3


If you use any language which places you on a higher level than the others, you will likely cause offence to either them or their family.

I'd stick with the totally neutral "adapted", which just suggests that they communicate differently to you (which is true). Something like "I have adapted my communication to the different needs and communication styles of my clients" or something along those lines.

As a side note, the word "clients" here places them on an equal (or possibly higher) level than yourself, and is formally appropriate, if you are being paid to deal with them.

  • 1
    I would agree with Max on "adapt". You also used the word "deliberately", which I think is meaningful in this context because you're aware of the risk of being perceived as condescending or patronizing in a disrespectful way. Instead, you're consciously or deliberately adapting or tailoring your communication style. In the context of a report on your work product, the specific behaviors are important in addition to the classification of "adapting your style". For instance, you adapt your communication to the different needs and styles "by" selecting the most appropriate words, body l Oct 16, 2017 at 14:11

"I strive to 'meet my clients where they are,' meaning I tailor my directions, comments and conflict resolution requirements to the specific situation and to the individual language and other limitations of those involved."

When we talk about adaptability and Values Based Leadership, we often say “meet people where they are.” It means diagnosing their values, their style, their needs, and their emotions, and connecting with them in a way that is effective for them. (Some call it “the platinum rule.”) It’s easy to get bent out of shape when someone else doesn’t meet our expectations, or doesn’t operate the way we do—but if you want to be effective as a leader, you have to be flexible to be effective. (ibid.)

  • But I need to clearly indicate that I appreciate where they are.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 16, 2017 at 14:17
  • Can you give us the sentence or paragraph you've drafted with which you are not satisfied (by adding it to your question)? It is hard to help you "edit" if we don't know what we're editing. I have a background in advocacy for the DD and appreciate the sensitivity with which you must proceed. I think you should let go of the Middle (or Early Modern) and classical Greek sense of "condescend" altogether and focus on the task of completing your report (and I mean that in the kindest way possible). Oct 16, 2017 at 14:27

I think, all things considered that 'empathise' is the best word.

It conveys no deference, no loss of authority, no relinquishing of proper control, yet it carries a sense of consideration of the feelings, thoughts and dispositions of the other person.

  • 1
    It makes for significant commentary that askers should ultimately have to accept their own answer for want of a better alternative.
    – Kris
    Jun 8, 2018 at 7:31

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