How could man have such utter contempt for man? Because he had reached the point of contempt for God. ~ Pope John Paul II

Contempt is an intensely negative emotion regarding a person or group of people as inferior, base, or worthless—it is similar to scorn. Contempt is also defined as the state of being despised or dishonored; disgrace, and an open disrespect or willful disobedience of the authority of a court of law or legislative body.


  • Men despise what they do not understand.
    • Origin unknown; reported as an "old proverb" in The Consensus: Volumes 7-8 (1922), p. 35; appears as part of a larger phrase in Hugh James Rose, The Commission and Consequent Duties of the Clergy (1831), p. xiv: "The ' little learning' which makes men despise what they do not understand, must finally, (though, perhaps, not till it has ruined what it cannot repair,) give place to that more benevolent wisdom which, as it seeks to promote God's will by promoting man's good, despises not, and knows that it ought not to despise, any rightful means by which that end can be promoted". A variation occurs as early as the 17th century in John Norris, Treatises Upon Several Subjects: viz.: Reason and Religion, or, the Grounds and Measures of Devotion (1698), p. 253: "How many excellent and useful things might be learnt in the Mathematics and other ingenious and profitable Sciences, while Boys are Thumming and Murthering Hesiod and Homer, which then they do not understand, and which when they do, they will throw by and despise: and that justly too?"
  • CONTEMPT, n. The feeling of a prudent man for an enemy who is too formidable safely to be opposed.
    • Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Dictionary (1906); republished as The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
  • Contempt is not a thing to be despised.
    • Edmund Burke, "Letters on a Regicide Peace", letter 3 (1796–1797), reported in The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke (1899), vol. 5, p. 436.
  • Go—let thy less than woman's hand
    Assume the distaff—not the brand.
    • Lord Byron, The Bride of Abydos (1813), Canto I, Stanza 4.
  • When they talk'd of their Raphaels, Correggios, and stuff,
    He shifted his trumpet, and only took snuff.
  • The infidelity of the Gentile world, and that more especially of men of rank and learning in it, is resolved into a principle which, in my judgment, will account for the inefficacy of any argument, or any evidence whatever, viz. contempt prior to investigation.
    • William Paley, in A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1794), as quoted in The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When (2006) by Ralph Keyes
    • Variant: There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination.
      • As quoted in Anglo-Israel or, The British Nation: The Lost Tribes of Israel (1879) by Rev. William H. Poole
    • A similar statement apparently derived from this has become widely attributed to Herbert Spencer, but there are no records of him ever saying or writing it, the first attribution to him occurring in 1931:
There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation.
  • Grown all to all, from no one vice exempt,
    And most contemptible to shun contempt.
  • Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.
  • I had rather chop this hand off at a blow,
    And with the other fling it at thy face,
    Than bear so low a sail, to strike to thee.
  • The weakness of the attack lies in its lack of discrimination. It is possible that psychic surgery is a hoax, that plants cannot really read our minds, that Kirlian photography (photographing the "life-aura" of living creatures) may depend on some simple electrical phenomenon. But to lump all of these together as if they were all on the same level of improbability shows a certain lack of discernment. The same applies to the list of "hoaxes." Rhine's careful research into extrasensory perception at Duke University is generally conceded to be serious and sincere, even by people who think his test conditions were too loose. The famous fairy photographs are quite probably a hoax, but no one has ever produced an atom of proof either way, and until someone does, no one can be quite as confident as the editors of Time seem to be. And Ted Serios has never at any time been exposed as a fraud — although obviously he might be. We see here a phenomena that we shall encounter again in relation to Geller: that when a scientist or a "rationalist" sets himself up as the defender of reason, he often treats logic with a disrespect that makes one wonder what side he is on.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
  • The spirit of contempt is the true spirit of Antichrist; for no other is more directly opposed to Christ.
  • Christ saw much in this world to weep over, and much to pray over: but he saw nothing in it to look upon with contempt.
  • There is no room in the universe for the least contempt or pride; but only for a gentle and a reverent heart.
  • Nothing is so contemptible as habitual contempt. It is impossible to remain long under its control without being dwarfed by its influence.
  • Ah, there is nothing more beautiful than the difference between the thought about sinful creatures which is natural to a holy being, and the thought about sinful creatures which is natural to a self-righteous being. The one is all contempt: the other, all pity.
    • Alexander MacLaren, p. 160.
  • Contempt leaves a deeper scar than anger.
    • Author unidentified, p. 160.

See also

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