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A pejorative (also called a derogatory term, [1] a slur, a term of disparagement) is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative connotation or a low opinion of someone or something, showing a lack of respect for someone or something. [2] It is also used to express criticism, hostility, or disregard. Sometimes, a term is regarded as pejorative in some social or ethnic groups but not in others, or may be originally pejorative and eventually be adopted in a non-pejorative sense (or vice versa) in some or all contexts.


Name slurs can also involve an insulting or disparaging innuendo, [3] rather than being a direct pejorative. In some cases, a person's name can be redefined with an unpleasant or insulting meaning, or be applied to a group of people considered by anyone to be inferior or lower in social class, as a group label with a disparaging meaning.

Definition and etymology

The word pejorative is derived from a Late Latin past participle stem of peiorare, meaning "to make worse", from peior "worse". [4]


When a term begins as pejorative and eventually is adopted in a non-pejorative sense, this is called "melioration" in historical linguistics. It may also be called amelioration, reclaiming, [5] or semantic change.

See also

Related Research Articles

A dysphemism is an expression with connotations that are offensive either about the subject matter or to the audience, or both. Dysphemisms contrast with neutral or euphemistic expressions. Dysphemism is sometimes motivated by feelings such as fear, distaste, hatred, and contempt. Worded simply, a dysphemism is a derogatory or unpleasant term used instead of a pleasant or neutral one, such as "loony bin" for "mental hospital".

Circular definition

A circular definition is one that uses the term(s) being defined as a part of the definition or assumes a prior understanding of the term being defined. There are several kinds of circular definition, and several ways of characterising the term: pragmatic, lexicographic and linguistic.

Cognitive linguistics is an interdisciplinary branch of linguistics, combining knowledge and research from both psychology and linguistics. It describes how language interacts with cognition, how language forms our thoughts, and the evolution of language parallel with the change in the common mindset across time.

Haole is a Hawaiian term for individuals who are not Native Hawaiian or Polynesian. In Hawaii, it may mean any foreigner or anything else introduced to the Hawaiian islands of foreign origin.

Goy Hebrew word for non-Jews, and its derivatives in other languages

Goy is the standard Hebrew biblical term for a nation. The word nation has been the common translation of the Hebrew goy or ethnos in the Septuagint, from the earliest English language bibles such as the 1611 King James Version and the 1530 Tyndale Bible, following the Latin Vulgate which used both gentile and nationes. The term nation did not have the same political connotations it entails today. The word "gentile" is a synonym for the Hebrew word Nokri which signifies "stranger" or "non-Jew".

Loaded language is rhetoric used to influence an audience by using words and phrases with strong connotations associated with them in order to invoke an emotional response and/or exploit stereotypes. Loaded words and phrases have significant emotional implications and involve strongly positive or negative reactions beyond their literal meaning.

Redskin is a slang term for Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in Canada. The term "redskin" underwent pejoration through the 19th to early 20th centuries and in contemporary dictionaries of American English it is labeled "usually offensive", "disparaging", "insulting", or "taboo".

A referent is a person or thing to which a name – a linguistic expression or other symbol – refers. For example, in the sentence Mary saw me, the referent of the word Mary is the particular person called Mary who is being spoken of, while the referent of the word me is the person uttering the sentence.

Naco is a pejorative word often used in Mexican Spanish to describe Spanish slang in one of the few Mexican forms. Naco is also used to pejoratively describe someone who has indigenous roots. The correct meaning comes from an Indigenous language. This is pointing fingers at someone with lack of knowledge of his own culture.

A sexual slur is a term of disparagement used to refer to members of a given gender, sex, or sexual orientation in a derogatory or pejorative manner. The motivation for using a sexual slur is often sexism and/or bias against a sexual orientation or practice.

Reappropriation Valuing a formerly pejorative term in esteem

Linguistic reappropriation,reclamation or resignification is the cultural process by which a group reclaims words or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group. It is a specific form of a semantic change. Linguistic reclamation can have wider implications in the fields of discourse and has been described in terms of personal or sociopolitical empowerment.

Wop is a pejorative slur for Italians or people of Italian descent.

Sexual slang is a set of linguistic terms and phrases used to refer to sexual organs, processes, and activities; they are generally considered colloquial rather than formal or medical, and some may be seen as impolite or improper.

Wog is a slang word in the idiom of Australian English and British English. In the UK, it is usually employed as an ethnic or racial slur, and considered derogatory and offensive. In Australia, it tends to be applied to a wider range of people, mainly the Mediterranean countries and although it remains a slur, it is to some extent used as a self-descriptor.

Some historical Chinese characters for non-Chinese peoples were graphically pejorative ethnic slurs, where the racial insult derived not from the Chinese word but from the character used to write it. For instance, written Chinese first transcribed the name Yáo "the Yao people " with the character for yáo 猺 "jackal", but 20th-century language reforms replaced this graphic pejorative with yáo 瑤 "precious jade".


  1. "Definition of derogatory". Merriam Webster . Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  2. "Pejorative | Define Pejorative at". Retrieved 2012-04-25.
  3. "Slur - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 2012-04-25.
  4. "Pejorative (adj.)". Online Etymology Dictionary . Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  5. Brontsema, Robin (2004-06-01). "A Queer Revolution: Reconceptualizing the Debate Over Linguistic Reclamation". Colorado Research in Linguistics. 17 (1). doi:10.25810/dky3-zq57. ISSN   1937-7029. Linguistic reclamation, also known as linguistic resignification or reappropriation, refers to the appropriation of a pejorative epithet by its target(s).

Further reading