Friday, October 23, 2015

Abbreviated Latin expression of the day: infra dig

I just ran across infra dig in H. L. Mencken’s The American Language. I can never recall the expression’s meaning, and so looked it up again. Perhaps writing this post will help me to remember the meaning in the future, he added hopefully.

The Oxford English Dictionary explains: “Beneath one’s dignity; unbecoming one’s position; not consistent with dignity; undignified.” Infra dig , an adjective, is the “colloquial abbreviation of Latin infrā dignitātem beneath (one’s) dignity.” The expression, whose source the Dictionary calls “obscure,” arose in the early nineteenth century:

William Hazlitt, 1822: “If the graduates  . . . express their thoughts in English, it is understood to be infra dignitatem .”

Walter Scott, 1824: “It would be infra dig. in the Provost of this most flourishing and loyal town to associate with Redgauntlet.”
Infra dig has always sounded to me as if it must be an expression of approval from the 1960s. (Dig !) I can imagine the phrase as a bit of dialogue spoken by a Beatle in A Hard Day’s Night: “A bit infra dig , eh wot?” But no, there’s nothing to dig in infra dig .

Thanks, OED.

comments: 2

Barnaby Capel-Dunn said...

Of course, in British English, Michael, we would say "I have just run across..."!

Michael Leddy said...

Ha! I hope I did a plausible job with “eh wot.”