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


  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

  • Croom, Adam M. (May 2011). "Slurs". Language Sciences. 33 (3). Elsevier. pp. 343–358.
  • Croom, Adam M. (2014). "Remarks on 'The Semantics of Racial Slurs'". Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations. 13 (1). pp. 11–32.
  • Croom, Adam M. (January 2014). "The Semantics of Slurs: A Refutation of Pure Expressivism". Language Sciences. 41, Part B. pp. 227–242. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2013.07.003.
  • Henderson, Anita (Spring 2003). "What's in a Slur?". American Speech. 78 (1). Project MUSE. pp. 52–74.

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