al·​ter·​i·​ty ȯl-ˈter-ə-tē How to pronounce alterity (audio)
: otherness
specifically : the quality or state of being radically alien to the conscious self or a particular cultural orientation

Did you know?

You’re probably familiar with the verb alter, meaning "to make or become different," and you may not be surprised to learn that it is a relative of "alterity." Both words descend from the Latin word alter, meaning "other (of two)." That Latin alter, in turn, comes from a prehistoric Indo-European word that is also an ancestor of our "alien." "Alterity" has been used in English as a fancy word for "otherness" ("the state of being other") since at least 1642. It remains less common than "otherness" and tends to turn up most often in the context of literary theory or cultural studies.

Examples of alterity in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Moving through the world as a hybrid is rather dangerous because many people both fear and blame them for the virus, which opens the show up to explore issues of alterity. Chancellor Agard,, 2 June 2021 For Giggs, the whale is a potent but misleading symbol of the ocean’s infinity, its alterity and expansiveness. Amia Srinivasan, The New Yorker, 17 Aug. 2020 Bourdain’s magic lies is in his capacity to formulate the most updated representation of readily consumable alterity. Tunde Wey, San Francisco Chronicle, 18 Mar. 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'alterity.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English alterite "change, state of being changed, difference," borrowed from Late Latin alteritāt-, alteritās (as translation of Greek heterótēs), from Latin alter "second, other" + -itāt-, -itās -ity — more at alter

First Known Use

1560, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of alterity was in 1560


Dictionary Entries Near alterity

Cite this Entry

“Alterity.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Apr. 2024.

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