According to wiktionary the word is said to derive from Latin 'denigratus,' to blacken; or asperse, defame. There's also Latin 'denigratio,' said to mean blackening.

Yet doesn't the prefix 'de' mean to take away from?

So wouldn't denigrare/denigro mean 'to remove the blackness of/from'?

I can't think of any other examples that would be consistent with this. Someone might say flammable / inflammable, but that at least makes some sense. Flammable = able to become flames. Inflammable = able to become inflamed/burned. That wouldn't really apply here.

Any help/thoughts appreciated.

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    Declaim, declare, denude, deplore, derelict, despoil, decoct, deliquesce, deny. To denude doesn't mean dressing. A derelict isn't something that has been returned. To despoil doesn't mean returning something plundered. Affixes like de- can mean more than one thing. Also, no matter the etymology, sometimes the current meaning of a word differs considerably. "Be nice," as the text above this box admonishes, would entail meaner or more foolish behavior from a 14th century computer user. Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 20:43
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    Thanks for the further examples; should have done some more contemplation/research first, but was bugging me and wanted to join the forum anyway. Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 20:46
  • Same sense of de- in Italian and French, denudare, déshabiller - declamare, declamer. Etc.
    – user 66974
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 21:05

1 Answer 1


Your concern appears to be the prefix de- which is used in English also with the meaning of “totally, completely”:

from which denigrate 1520s, "to sully or stain" (the reputation, character, etc.), from Latin denigratus, past participle of denigrare "to blacken; to defame," from de- "completely"


active word-forming element in English and in many verbs inherited from French and Latin, from Latin de "down, down from, from, off; concerning" (see de), also used as a prefix in Latin, usually meaning "down, off, away, from among, down from," but also "down to the bottom, totally" hence "completely" (intensive or completive), which is its sense in many English words.


A few terms with de- prefix with the connotation stated above:

Decry, denote, demonstrative, default, devoid, deprivation, definitive, demean, demur, depravity, delusive, deportment, delude, decrepitude , desiccate, demure.

  • Thank you. Despoil does not appear to be one, its etymology means to strip the skin/hide off something; but the others esp declare, denude seem to be consistent. As for the comment function, I was not aware. In most forums, the answer function is used to respond to OP; my mistake. Seems like I ruffled some feathers. Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 20:41
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    @fringehist1980 I apologize if you have found your first encounter here a less than felicitous one. Your question is a good one, but it would benefit from a little research. If you have a limited number of questions I will try to help you...but first, visit the Help Page for advice on posting on Q&A Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 21:03
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    No problem; I understand the need for it, otherwise somewhat off-topic back-and-forths can gum up the forum and appear to be major debates when aren't. Will do; thanks Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 21:21

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