Is the word divest used in the meaning "strip" or "deprive"? This word is in the GRE high-frequency word list, and my workbook says that it means "strip or deprive". Also, Wiktionary has an article with the same meaning. But I've checked a couple of dictionaries (Cambridge and Collins) and I've failed to find this meaning of the word divest, only "to sell something, especially business, part of business or to stop taking part in a business activity".

In which meaning is the word "divest" usually used?


2 Answers 2


It surely can; the first meaning listed by dictionary.com (which is identical to the definition in Websters Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary ©1983) is "to strip of clothing, ornament, etc." The sell-off-as-in-commerce definition is listed last. As you noted, Wiktionary doesn't give any current definition other than "to strip, deprive, or dispossess of something".

In fact, if you look at the roots, the word literally means 'remove clothing', so the usage in commerce is pretty figurative. Edit (thanks, RegDwight): Etymonline dates the economic sense only to 1955. The same site says the earliest meaning (1560s) was exactly the general "strip of possessions" that you want.

  • Etymonline: 1560s, devest (modern spelling is c.1600), from M.Fr. devester "strip of possessions," from O.Fr. desvestir, from des- "away" (see dis-) + vestir "to clothe" (see vest (v.)). The figurative sense of "strip of possessions" is earliest in English; reflexive sense of "to strip oneself of" is from c.1600. Economic sense (implied in divestment) is from 1955.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 16, 2010 at 15:29

I've just checked news.google.com for the most prominent and authoritative usages of the word, and it appears that divest, in most cases, implies to strip something/someone:

  1. It also plans to divest its carbon blacks unit that is used in the rubber and tire industries

  2. after agreeing to divest four psychiatric hospitals to win antitrust clearance. Psychiatric Solutions have moved on, and its stock has ceased trading....

  • I'm not sure I understand you. That's probably because my English is not good enough: I'm just learning. But in your examples isn't it used as "sell" or "stop taking part in"? Doesn't Evonik plan to sell its carbon blacks unit? Haven't Universal Services Inc. agreed to sell four psychiatric hospitals?
    – fiktor
    Nov 16, 2010 at 14:42
  • But Ok, I see that both meanings can be understood as a wide meaning of the word "strip" or "get rid of".
    – fiktor
    Nov 16, 2010 at 14:48
  • 1
    For me, "divest" is a ditransitive verb, so I would say "divest itself of its carbon black" etc. But it appears that that transitive use is becoming common.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 16, 2010 at 15:43

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