late 14c., degraden, "deprive of office, dignity, or honors; reduce from a higher to a lower rank," from Old French degrader (12c.) "degrade, deprive (of office, rank, etc.)," from des- "down" (see dis-) + Latin gradi "to walk, go, step" (from PIE root *ghredh- "to walk, go"). From 1640s as "lower in character, cause to deteriorate." Intransitive sense of "degenerate, deteriorate" is by 1850. Related: Degraded; degrading.