A pejorative or slur is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative or a disrespectful connotation, a low opinion, or a lack of respect toward someone or something.[1] 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 but later adopt a non-pejorative sense (or vice versa) in some or all contexts.

Etymology

The word pejorative is derived from a Late Latin past participle stem of peiorare, meaning "to make worse", from peior "worse".[2]

Pejoration and melioration

Main article: Semantic drift

In historical linguistics, the process of an inoffensive word becoming pejorative is a form of semantic drift known as pejoration. An example of pejoration is the shift in meaning of the word silly from meaning that a person was happy and fortunate to meaning that they are foolish and unsophisticated.[3] The process of pejoration can repeat itself around a single concept, leaping from word to word in a phenomenon known as the euphemism treadmill, for example as in the successive pejoration of the terms bog-house, privy-house, latrine, water closet, toilet, bathroom and restroom.[4][5]

When a term begins as pejorative and eventually is adopted in a non-pejorative sense, this is called melioration or amelioration. One example is the shift in meaning of the word nice from meaning a person was foolish to meaning that a person is pleasant.[6] When performed deliberately, it is described as reclamation or reappropriation.[7] An example of a reclaimed word is queer, which was re-appropriated as a positive term by activists and academics starting in the early 1990s.[8]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Pejorative | Define Pejorative at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2012-04-25.
  2. ^ "Pejorative (adj.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  3. ^ Horobin, Simon (March 31, 2021). "Five words that don't mean what you think they do". The Conversation. Retrieved 2021-04-05.
  4. ^ Stollznow, Karen (2020-08-11). "Ableist Language and the Euphemism Treadmill". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  5. ^ Bell, Vicars Walker (1953). On Learning the English Tongue. Faber & Faber. p. 19. The Honest Jakes or Privy has graduated via Offices to the final horror of Toilet.
  6. ^ Nordquist, Richard (3 October 2019). "What Is the Process of Amelioration in Language?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  7. ^ 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).
  8. ^ Nunn, Gary (2015-10-30). "Power grab: reclaiming words can be such a bitch". the Guardian. Retrieved 2020-06-15.

Further reading