al·​ter·​i·​ty | \ ȯl-ˈter-ə-tē How to pronounce alterity (audio) , -ˈte-rə- \

Definition of alterity

: otherness specifically : the quality or state of being radically alien to the conscious self or a particular cultural orientation

Keep scrolling for more

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 Bourdain’s magic lies is in his capacity to formulate the most updated representation of readily consumable alterity. Tunde Wey, San Francisco Chronicle, "The power of those who get to tell the stories," 18 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'alterity.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of alterity

1560, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for alterity

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about alterity

Time Traveler for alterity

Time Traveler

The first known use of alterity was in 1560

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about alterity

Statistics for alterity

Cite this Entry

“Alterity.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Jul. 2020.

More from Merriam-Webster on alterity

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with alterity

Comments on alterity

What made you want to look up alterity? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

A More Exception(al) Quiz

  • hot dog  hot dog  hot dog  hot dog cat
  • Which of the following words is not a synonym for ‘a young person’?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!