Vocab at the Movies: Derelicte!

Jen Dziura —  August 16, 2011 — Leave a comment

The 2001 comedy Zoolander famously featured a fashion line entitled, “Derelicte” (the French version of derelict).

According to Wikipedia:

It is described by Mugatu in the film as “a fashion, a way of life inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique.” The fashion line consists of clothing made from everyday objects that could be found on the streets of New York. Derelicte is a parody of a real fashion line created by John Galliano in 2000.

Derelict means “left or deserted, as by the owner or guardian; abandoned.” As a noun, it can also mean “a person abandoned by society; vagrant; bum” or “one guilty of neglect of duty.” That is, a derelict can be the person who was abandoned or the person doing the abandoning (although the former usage is more common).

A similar word, dilapidated, means “reduced to or fallen into partial ruin or decay, as from age, wear, or neglect.”

Finally, a third “d” word, decrepit, means “weakened by old age; feeble; infirm,” or “worn out by long use; dilapidated.”

Note that something that is in bad condition from neglect could be derelict or dilapidated, but something that is in bad condition from being used a lot is dilapidated (but not derelict). People are not described as derelict (the adjective) or dilapidated; decrepit can describe people, but it’s a pretty terrible word.

In sum:

The burned-out Chevy in the front yard was certainly derelict/dilapidated/decrepit.

The decrepit old man stood no chance against the hooligans.

The City Council voted to remove park benches in order to discourage derelicts from sleeping on them.

The teenager carried her dilapidated notebook around with her everywhere.

Jen Dziura


Jennifer Dziura is Manhattan Prep's GRE Blog Editor and Lead Content Developer. She writes books and curricula for the GRE, and is the author of Manhattan Prep's 500 Essential Words and 500 Advanced Words flashcard sets. Also a GMAT and SAT expert, Jennifer uses her obviously copious spare time to co-host an adult spelling bee in a bar and travel to colleges and universities to give humorous talks about philosophy and punctuation. She is working on a book about speed mathematics.

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