The Meaning of Decency: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what the definition of decency is? This guide will give you all of the info you need on the English word decency, including its definition, etymology, synonyms and antonyms, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word decency mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary as well as other dictionary apps, the word decency is a noun that means propriety or some standard of propriety, or the quality or state of being decent or proper. Someone can be said to have a common sense of decency if they are kind to others and know how to present themselves in polite company.

The word decency is used in a few different common expressions. It is often seen in the phrase common decency. According to The Free Dictionary, the phrase common decency means common or everyday courtesy or respect, or politeness that is expected and assumed under standard societal convention. It could be considered common decency to hold a door open for someone who is running toward an elevator, or to let your spouse know if you are going to be home late. People often use the phrase common decency to refer to times in which people are not showing common decency or the prevailing standards of propriety. According to Collins Dictionary, the phrase human decency can be used nearly identically to the phrase common decency. Sometimes they are even put together to make the phrase common human decency which is used to refer to proper behavior.

The word decency is also used in many different languages, like Polish and arabic. Below is a list of translations and ways to say the word decency in other languages. This list is provided by Word Sense.

  • Romanian: cuviință‎, cădere‎, decență‎
  • Russian: поря́дочность‎ (fem.), прили́чие‎ (neut.)
  • Czech: slušnost‎ (fem.)
  • Portuguese: decência‎ (fem.)
  • Hebrew: הגינות‎
  • Swedish: anständighet‎ (common)
  • Spanish: decencia‎ (fem.)
  • Dutch: fatsoen‎ (neut.)
  • German: Anstand‎ (masc.)
  • Greek: αιδώς‎ (fem.)
  • Catalan: decència‎ (fem.)
  • Bulgarian: благоприличие‎
  • Finnish: säädyllisyys‎, soveliaisuus‎
  • French: décence‎

What is the origin of the word decency?

According to Etymonline, the word decency has been used since the 1560s. This word comes from the Latin decentia, meaning comeliness or decency. This comes from the Latin decentum, meaning becoming or fitting. This is the present participle form of decere, which means to be fitting or suitable. This comes from the root deke or dek, meaning to take or accept. The word decency has been used to mean modesty or free of obscenity since the 1630s. 

According to Etymonline, the proto-Indo-European root dek means to take or accept. This is the hypothetical source of various different words, including the Sanskrit daśasyati meaning something that shows honor is gracious, the Sanskrit dacati meaning makes offerings or bestows, the Greek dokein meaning to appear, seem, or think, the Greek dekhesthai meaning to accept, and the Latin words decere meaning to be fitting or suitable, docere meaning to teach, and decus meaning grace or ornament.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word decency?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word decency. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Synonyms can be very useful if one wants to avoid repeating the same word or phrase over and over again, or if they are looking to expand their vocabulary. The below list of synonyms for the word decency has been provided by Thesaurus.

  • etiquette
  • respectability
  • appropriateness
  • virtue
  • honesty
  • civility
  • courtesy
  • propriety
  • righteousness
  • modesty
  • good manners
  • good form
  • correctness
  • seemliness
  • fitness
  • dignity
  • formality
  • decorum
  • fittingness
  • ceremoniousness
  • conventionality

There are also many words that have the opposite definition as the word decency. These are considered antonyms. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • coarseness
  • crudity
  • indecency
  • foulness
  • impurity
  • indelicacy
  • offense
  • drunkenness
  • smuttiness
  • vileness
  • vulgarity
  • evil
  • licentiousness
  • ribaldry
  • outrageousness
  • lewdness
  • pornography
  • unseemliness
  • indecorum
  • impropriety
  • immodesty
  • incivility
  • bawdiness
  • obscenity
  • grossness

How can the word decency be used in a sentence?

The word decency can be used in many different sentences to refer to a certain standard of propriety. You might see this word spoken aloud or written in various different articles, novels, and more! In this example, someone will be urged to have decency. Rebecca has just learned that her brother Marco is cheating on his girlfriend and she is very upset about it.

Marco: What’s the big deal? It’s none of your business, Rebecca.

Rebecca: It certainly is my business. I don’t know who raised you, but mom raised me to have a little decency. I don’t care how much she annoys you or how much you don’t like her, you don’t cheat on someone. If you don’t want to be with her, or if you’re in love with someone else, break up with her. But don’t do this.

Marco: I do like her. And she’s never going to find out. But she’s been out of town for two months, what am I supposed to do?

Rebecca: She’s been out of town because her father passed away and she’s been dealing with her family, Marco. Don’t you hear how much of a swine you are?

Overall, the word decency is a noun that means the standard or propriety or politeness. This word is often used in the phrases common decency or human decency, which are used to refer to a societal standard of kindness or appropriate behavior. People are often urged to “have a little decency” or “show a little decency” toward others.