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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

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

Linguists Christopher David and Elin McCready, writing in a 2018 paper for the University of the Ryukyus and Aoyama Gakuin University, argued that three properties make a term a slur: it must be derogatory towards a particular group, it must be used to subordinate them within some structure of power relations, and the derogated group must be defined by an intrinsic property.[5]


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,[6] or semantic change.[7] Some examples of melioration are "punk", "dude" and "nerd".

See also


Citation Linkwww.merriam-webster.com"Definition of derogatory". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
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Citation Linkdictionary.reference.com"Pejorative | Define Pejorative at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2012-04-25.
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Citation Linkwww.merriam-webster.com"Slur - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2012-04-25.
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Citation Linkwww.etymonline.com"Pejorative (adj.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved October 16, 2016.
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Citation Linksemanticsarchive.netDavis, Christopher; McCready, Elin (2018-11-19). "The Instability of Slurs" (PDF). Semantics Archive. Retrieved 2019-04-24. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
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Citation Linkportal.issn.orgBrontsema, 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).
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Citation Link//doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.langsci.2010.11.005Croom, Adam M. (May 2011). "Slurs". Language Sciences. 33 (3): 343–358. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2010.11.005.
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Citation Linkwww.sciencedirect.comCroom, Adam M. "Slurs." Language Sciences, Volume 33, Number 3, May 2011, pp. 343-358. Published by Elsevier
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Citation Linkphilpapers.orgCroom, Adam M. "Remarks on 'The Semantics of Racial Slurs'". Lingusitic and Philosophical Investigations, 13 (1):11-32 (2014)
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Citation Linkdx.doi.orgCroom, Adam M. "The Semantics of Slurs: A Refutation of Pure Expressivism". Language Sciences Volume 41, Part B, January 2014, Pages 227–242.
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Citation Linkwww.iep.utm.edu"Pejorative Language"
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Citation Linkdoi.org10.25810/dky3-zq57
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Citation Linkwww.worldcat.org1937-7029
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Citation Linkdoi.org10.1016/j.langsci.2010.11.005
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