late 14c., in astronomy, "imaginary point of the celestial sphere vertically opposite to the zenith of the sun; the inferior pole of the horizon," from Medieval Latin nadir, from Arabic nazir "opposite to," in nazir as-samt, literally "opposite direction," from nazir "opposite" + as-samt "road, path" (see zenith). Transferred sense of "lowest point" of anything is recorded by 1793.
1640s, transitive, "make worse, reduce in quality," from Late Latin deterioratus, past participle of deteriorare "get worse; make worse," from Latin deterior "worse, lower, inferior, meaner," contrastive of *deter "bad, lower," from PIE *de-tero-, from demonstrative stem *de- (see de). Intransitive sense "grow worse, degenerate" is by 1758. Related: Deteriorated; deteriorating.
early 14c., "area outside a town or city," whether agricultural or residential but most frequently residential, from Old French suburbe "suburb of a town," from Latin suburbium "an outlying part of a city" (especially Rome), from sub "below, near" (see sub-) + urbs (genitive urbis) "city" (see urban). Glossed in Old English as underburg. Just beyond the reach of municipal jurisdiction, suburbs had a bad reputation in 17c. England, especially those of London, and suburban had a sense of "inferior, debased, licentious" (as in suburban sinner, slang for "loose woman, prostitute"). By 1817, the tinge had shifted to "of inferior manners and narrow views." Compare also French equivalent faubourg.
[T]he growth of the metropolis throws vast numbers of people into distant dormitories where ... life is carried on without the discipline of rural occupations and without the cultural resources that the Central District of the city still retains. [Lewis Mumford, 1922]
"person versed in or devoted to science," 1834, a hybrid coined from Latin scientia (see science) by the Rev. William Whewell, English polymath, by analogy with artist, in the same paragraph in which he coined physicist (q.v.). There is an isolated use of sciencist from 1778, and scientician was used in 1885. Scientaster "petty or inferior scientist" is by 1899 (see -aster).
c. 1500, "act of adulterating; state of being debased by mixture with something else," generally of inferior quality, from Latin adulterationem (nominative adulteratio) "an adulteration, sophistication," noun of action from past-participle stem of adulterare "corrupt, falsify; debauch; commit adultery," from ad "to" (see ad-) + alterare "to alter" (see alter), though Watkins explains it as ad alterum "(approaching) another (unlawfully)." Meaning "a result of adulterating" is from 1650s.
"inferior, bad," 1896, also as a noun, "something worthless," earlier "rotten wood used as tinder" (1680s), "A word in common use in New England, as well as in the other Northern States and Canada" [Bartlett]; perhaps from Delaware (Algonquian) ponk, literally "dust, powder, ashes;" but Gaelic spong "tinder" also has been suggested (compare spunk "touchwood, tinder," 1580s).
"debase by mixing with foreign or inferior material, make corrupt," 1530s, back-formation from adulteration, or else from Latin adulteratus, past participle of adulterare "to falsify, corrupt," also "to commit adultery." An earlier verb was adulter (late 14c. in the sense "make impure"), directly from the Latin verb, but this English verb also carried the meaning "commit adultery." Related: Adulterated; adulterating.
1560s, "easily crumbled;" 1570s, "like bread," from crumb + -y (2). Slang meaning "shoddy, filthy, inferior, poorly made" was in use by 1859, probably from the first sense, but influenced by crumb in its slang sense of "louse." The "like bread" sense probably accounts for 18c. (and later in dialects) use, of a woman, "attractively plump, full-figured, buxom." Related: Crummily; crumminess.
c. 1600, "loss or impairment of the qualities proper to the race or kind," also figurative, "descent to an inferior state," from French dégéneration (15c.) or directly from Late Latin degenerationem (nominative degeneratio), noun of action from past-participle stem of Latin degenerare "to be inferior to one's ancestors, to become unlike one's race or kind, fall from ancestral quality," used of physical as well as moral qualities, from phrase de genere, from de "down from, away from" (see de-) + genus (genitive generis) "birth, descent" (from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget").
[Degeneration] means literally an unkinding, the undoing of a kind, and in this sense was first used to express the change of kind without regard to whether the change was to perfect or to degrade; but it is now used exclusively to denote a change from a higher to a lower kind, that is to say, from a more complex to a less complex organisation; it is a process of dissolution, the opposite of that process of involution which is pre-essential to evolution. [Henry Maudsley, "Body and Will," 1884]