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From Old French (12th century) distinction, from Latin accusative distinctionem, action noun of distinguo (I distinguish). Used in English from the late 14th century.



distinction (countable and uncountable, plural distinctions)

  1. That which distinguishes; a single occurrence of a determining factor or feature, the fact of being divided; separation, discrimination.
  2. The act of distinguishing, discriminating; discrimination.
    There is a distinction to be made between resting and slacking.
    • 1921, Bertrand Russell, “Lecture II”, in The Analysis of Mind:
      In spite of these qualifications, the broad distinction between instinct and habit is undeniable. To take extreme cases, every animal at birth can take food by instinct, before it has had opportunity to learn; on the other hand, no one can ride a bicycle by instinct, though, after learning, the necessary movements become just as automatic as if they were instinctive.
    • 1911, “Evidence”, in Encyclopædia Britannica:
      But, for practical purposes, it is possible to draw a distinction between a statement of facts observed and an expression of opinion as to the inference to be drawn from these facts, and the rule telling witnesses to state facts and not express opinions is of great value in keeping their statements out of the region of argument and conjecture.
  3. Specifically, a feature that causes someone or something to stand out as being better; a mark of honour, rank, eminence or excellence; being distinguished.
    She had the distinction of meeting the Queen.
    • 1922, Ben Travers, chapter 2, in A Cuckoo in the Nest[1]:
      Mother [] considered that the exclusiveness of Peter's circle was due not to its distinction, but to the fact that it was an inner Babylon of prodigality and whoredom, from which every Kensingtonian held aloof, except on the conventional tip-and-run excursions in pursuit of shopping, tea and theatres.
    • 2013, Daniel Taylor, Steven Gerrard goal against Poland ensures England will go to World Cup (in The Guardian, 15 October 2013)[2]
      Leighton Baines, playing with distinction again, sent over a left-wing cross with pace and accuracy. Welbeck, prominently involved all night, could not reach it but Rooney was directly behind him, flashing his header past Szczesny.


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From Old French distinction (attested in the 12th century), from the Latin accusative distinctionem, the action noun of distinguere (distinguish).



distinction f (plural distinctions)

  1. distinction (difference, honour)

Further readingEdit