Word Confusion: Destain vs Disdain vs Distain vs Distrain

Posted June 6, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions

Revised as of 25 August 2017

Interestingly, there is not much difference between disdain and distain other than the latter being more likely to appear in a more poetic style of writing and very useful for setting that more historic mood if you are writing a period piece of fiction.

Now, destain sounds like something I’d be doing in the laundry room, but no. Destain has a much “loftier” purpose them de-staining my clothes. It’s more of a purposeful staining in the lab.

Distrain is not a word I’ve come across before I explored the above word confusion. I doubt I’ll come across it anywhere else either. One is more likely to encounter eminent domain, which is the same general idea in that the government will seize your property to put up a shopping mall or an apartment or office complex that will benefit corporations but not the true owner of the property.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Destain Disdain Distain Distrain
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Free Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster: distain;

cells ranging in color frol white to blues

“High School Biology” by CK-12 Foundation is under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Elderly exiled French aristocrats with their noses in the air

“Elderly Exiled French Aristocrats at Tellson’s” by Fred Barnard is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Aristocrats with their noses in the air, showing their disdain.

Sweat-stained shirt from carrying a backpack on a hot day

“Perspiration Stain on White Cotton T-shirt” is Daniel Case’s own work under the GFDL or via CC BY-SA 3.0 license, Wikimedia Commons

Not very poetic, but a sweat stain is still a stain.

Grafitti in the Banksy-style of two military men stealing a TV

“Looters in New Orleans” by Infrogmation of New Orleans (Flickr: BanksyLootersC) is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Not that exact, but it gets the idea across of distrain, of seizing someone’s property.

Part of Grammar:
Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: destains
Past tense or past participle: destained
Gerund or present participle: destaining

Noun 1;
Verb, transitive 2

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: disdains
Past tense or past participle: disdained
Gerund or present participle: disdaining

Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: distains
Past tense or past participle: distained
Gerund or present participle: distaining

Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: distrains
Past tense or past participle: distrained
Gerund or present participle: distraining

[Biology] Selectively remove stain from (a specimen for microscopy, a chromatography gel, etc.) after it has previously been stained Noun:
Feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one’s consideration or respect


Verb, transitive:
Consider to be unworthy of one’s consideration

Refuse or reject out of feelings of pride or superiority

[Archaic] Chiefly used in poetry

Take away the color of


To stain the honor of




Seize someone’s property to obtain payment of rent or other money owed

  • Seize the property of someone to obtain payment of money owed
Perriman, you’ll need to destain that sample. Noun:
Her lip curled in disdain.

He had the typical aristocrat’s disdain for people who worked in trade.

Verb, transitive:
He disdained to discuss the matter further.

She remained standing, pointedly disdaining his invitation to sit down.

She hath…distained her honorable blood– Spenser

The worthiness of praise distains his worth. – Shakespeare

Legislation has restricted the right to distrain goods found on the premises.

The government applied political pressure by distraining debtors.

Noun: distrainer, distrainment
History of the Word:
First known use: 14th century

Middle English disteynen, from the Anglo-French desteindre meaning to take away the color of, which is from de- + teindre meaning to dye, which is from the Latin tingere meaning to wet or dye.

Middle English from the Old French and both are based on the Latin dedignari, from de- (expressing reversal) + dignari (consider worthy) from dignus meaning worthy:

1 Old French desdeign

2 Old French desdeignier

First known use: 1927 Middle English from the Old French destreindre, from the Latin distringere meaning stretch apart from dis- (apart) + stringere (tighten).

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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