"having an air of distinction," 1813 (in Byron), from French distingué, literally "distinguished," past participle of distinguer "to separate between, keep separate, mark off" (see distinguish).
The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
With distingué traces
That used to be there — You could see where they'd been washed away
By too many through the day
Twelve o'clock tales.
["Lush Life," Billy Strayhorn, age 17]
There was a verb distingue (Middle English distinguen, mid-14c., "to divide or subdivide, discern, perceive"), from Old French distinguer, but it has not survived.
updated on August 18, 2020