Meaning of DEGENERATE in English


I. -n(ə)rə̇t, usu -ə̇d.+V adjective

Etymology: Middle English degenerat, from Latin degeneratus, past participle of degenerare to degenerate, from de- + gener-, genus race, kind — more at kin

1. : having sunk to a lower class or standard or to a state below that normal to a type or to a thing:


(1) : having declined markedly (as in vigor and stability or in racial or cultural character) from one's ancestors, predecessors, or one's former self

just as the last degenerate member of a noble family may be unattractive and uninspiring — W.E.Swinton

(2) : losing distinctive racial culture : retrograde

the Mayas were degenerate but they were stubborn — Time

b. : having deteriorated from a former level : devitalized, corrupted

Savonarola's ecclesiastical superior officer … was a monster of perfidy and immorality; and a despairing and degenerate world had sunk into servitude beneath him — W.L.Sullivan

the modern and degenerate society, which had rejected the governance of religion — J.C.Ransom

c. : degraded or debased by loss of moral stability, aesthetic concord, or political integrity

the studies of notorious degenerate families prove nothing very significant about the inheritance of degeneracy — R.M.Lindner

preferred to prop up an effete and degenerate dynasty rather than face a vigorous reformed China — G.F.Hudson

the profession of painting … has esthetically, morally, and in certain quarters even politically become a thoroughly degenerate one — Huntington Hartford

d. : having deteriorated progressively (as in the process of evolution) especially through loss of structure or function — compare degeneration 3b

2. : characterized by lowered standards

the great wrought nails binding the clapboards are unknown in these degenerate days — Herman Melville

3. : breaking up into a product of factors of lower degree — used of an algebraic curve or surface

4. of a gas : characterized by having atoms stripped of most if not all of their electrons as the result of extremely high pressure and temperature in the interior of a very dense star (as a white dwarf) and by being compressed to a density as high as a million times that of water so that the ordinary laws of a perfect gas do not apply

Synonyms: see vicious

II. -nəˌrāt, usu -ād.+V verb

( -ed/-ing/-s )

Etymology: Latin degeneratus

intransitive verb

1. obsolete

a. : to show a decline from ancestral or earlier character and quality

b. : to show variation from normal type

2. : to pass from a higher to a lower type or condition:

a. : to descend to a markedly worse condition in kind or degree : worsen conspicuously

the road … degenerated to little more than a goat track — Michael Swan

its fine houses one by one degenerating into rooming houses — Marcia Davenport

her fixed mysterious smile degenerated into a fatuous stare — J.C.Powys

b. : to become unstable and sink to some discreditable, despicable, or disastrous state

unfortunately, in practice, rotation in office degenerated into the spoils system — E.M.Eriksson

debate was degenerating into partisan squabbling

lest this international crisis degenerate into world war

c. : to decline to an unworthy secondary status through impairment of essential quality or integrity

the phrase which they have reiterated ad nauseam has degenerated into a ponderous platitude — W.F.Hambly

has not lost its dignity or degenerated into mere prettiness — O. Elfrida Saunders

religion is tending to degenerate into a decent formula wherewith to embellish a comfortable life — A.N.Whitehead

3. : to decline intellectually or morally or from one's peculiar character or former standards usually to a shameful or despicable level

mentally and physically the Indians degenerated with the taking on of the white men's vices — American Guide Series: Massachusetts

of heroic stature but ultimately degenerating into a typical medieval dictator — R.A.Hall b. 1911

4. : to decline from a former thriving state or from standards proper to a species or race : retrograde

dinosaurs degenerated and disappeared

mallards are prone anyway to degenerate into the barnyard type — W.L.McAtee

all through the evolution of life many forms have degenerated, losing their relative autonomy and becoming dependent parasites upon other creatures — Curt Stern

5. : to decline in literary, aesthetic, or artistic quality and become altered to a debased substitute or poor imitation

denunciation of the rampant charlatanism into which the surrealist movement has apparently degenerated — Bernard Smith

their metaphor degenerates into a series of isolated and barren conceits — C.D.Lewis

6. biology : to undergo progressive deterioration : become of a lower type — see degeneration 3

transitive verb

: to cause to degenerate

the Etruscans were receptive to new ideas and applied them with energy, usually only to degenerate them in the end — A.L.Kroeber

III. like degenerate I noun

( -s )

Etymology: degenerate (I)

: a person declining conspicuously from the normal character or the standard set by his kind in the normal course of development: as

a. : one who is degraded from the normal moral standard

they had rotted in the last two centuries into mere drunkards and dandy degenerates — G.K.Chesterton

degenerates are usually about the same type as psychopathics, namely, individuals who intellectually and especially affectively react differently from the average — A.A.Brill

b. : one who is debased by a psychopathic tendency

he has an urge to kill and destroy women … he may be considered a sexual psychopath and degenerate — Fred Galvin

c. : a sexual pervert — not used technically

d. : one showing signs of reversion to an earlier culture stage

it is possible that some of these are cultural degenerates; most ethnologists, however, prefer to regard the majority as culturally retarded — R.W.Murray

IV. adjective

1. : being mathematically simpler (as by having a factor or constant equal to zero) than the typical case

the graph of a second degree equation yielding two intersecting lines is a degenerate hyperbola


a. : having two or more states or subdivisions especially of the same energy or frequency

degenerate orbital

degenerate oscillation

b. of a semiconductor : having a sufficient concentration of impurities to conduct electricity as a semimetal

3. : having more than one codon representing an amino acid ; also : being such a codon

4. : consisting of degenerate matter

a degenerate star

Webster's New International English Dictionary.      Новый международный словарь английского языка Webster.