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A pejorative (also called a derogatory term,[1] derogative term, a term of abuse, or a term of disparagement) is a word or grammatical form expressing a low opinion of someone or something, or showing a lack of respect for someone or something.[2] It is also used as a criticism, hostility, disregard and/or disrespect. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social or cultural groups but not in others. Sometimes, a term may begin as a 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 applied to a group of people considered by the majority to be inferior or lower in social class, as a group label with a disparaging meaning. Also, an ethnic slur or racial slur can be pejorative and to imply people of those groups are inferior or deficient.


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

Melioration of pejoratives[edit]

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, or semantic change.[5] Some examples of melioration are "punk" or "dude".

See also[edit]


  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. 
  5. ^ Croom, Adam M. (May 2011). "Slurs". Language Sciences (Elsevier) 33 (3): 343–358. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2010.11.005. 

Further reading[edit]