ep·i·thet | \ˈe-pə-ˌthet also -thət \

Definition of epithet 

1a : a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing

b : a disparaging or abusive word or phrase

c : the part of a taxonomic name identifying a subordinate unit within a genus

2 obsolete : expression

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Other Words from epithet

epithetic \ˌe-pə-ˈthe-tik \ or epithetical \ˌe-pə-ˈthe-ti-kəl \ adjective

Did You Know?

Nowadays, "epithet" is usually used negatively, with the meaning "a derogatory word or phrase," but it wasn't always that way. "Epithet" comes to us via Latin from the Greek noun epitheton and ultimately derives from epitithenai, meaning "to put on" or "to add." In its oldest sense, an "epithet" is simply a descriptive word or phrase, especially one joined by fixed association to the name of someone or something (as in "Peter the Great" or the stock Homeric phrases "gray-eyed Athena" and "wine-dark sea"). Alternatively, epithets may be used in place of a name (as in "the Peacemaker" or "the Eternal"). These neutral meanings of "epithet" are still in use, but today the word is more often used in its negative "term of disparagement" sense.

Examples of epithet in a Sentence

His charitable works have earned him the epithet “Mr. Philanthropy.” Many were offended by her use of racial epithets. a group of angry people hurling epithets at one another
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Recent Examples on the Web

Samantha Bee, just six weeks removed from apologizing for using a vulgar epithet to describe Ivanka Trump, was also nominated. John Koblin, New York Times, "Emmy Nominations 2018: ‘Game of Thrones’ and Netflix Lead the Way," 13 July 2018 Ivanka Trump was targeted recently by late-night comedian Samantha Bee over immigration policy, though Bee apologized for using a crude epithet to describe her. Catherine Lucey And Jonathan Lemire, chicagotribune.com, "Ivanka Trump stayed silent for days as border crisis mounted," 20 June 2018 On May 24, swastikas and racial epithets, including one that Howard County police said targeted the school’s African-American principal, were found painted on school campus sidewalks, outside walls and the parking lot. Jess Nocera, Howard County Times, "Grand jury indicts teens accused of hate crimes at Glenelg High School," 13 July 2018 When Revitalization Corps brought several busloads of children to Old Lyme, they were met with glares and epithets. Amy Crawford, Smithsonian, "Racism Kept Connecticut’s Beaches White Up Through the 1970s," 2 July 2018 Such epithets are routine for the tough-talking president, but applying them to God appeared to be a first for him and the remarks startled even some of his supporters in this highly religious country, which is more than 80 percent Catholic. Felipe Villamor, BostonGlobe.com, "‘Who is this stupid God?’ For latest insult, Philippine leader aims high," 27 June 2018 Microsoft was able to tweak a relatively simple system like Tay by adding profanities or racial epithets to a blacklist of terms that its algorithm should ignore. Jonathan Vanian, Fortune, "Unmasking A.I.'s Bias Problem," 25 June 2018 The suspects were subjected to mock executions and electric shock and beaten with telephone books as their interrogators flung racial epithets at them. Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY, "Judge orders release of accused Chicago cop killer while he awaits new trial," 22 June 2018 Loyd responded with an epithet about the detective’s mother. Michael Williams, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Markeith Loyd was uncooperative, asking for medical attention shortly after capture, audio reveals," 8 June 2018

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

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First Known Use of epithet

1579, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for epithet

Latin epitheton, from Greek, from neuter of epithetos added, from epitithenai to put on, add, from epi- + tithenai to put — more at do

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Statistics for epithet

Last Updated

22 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for epithet

The first known use of epithet was in 1579

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More Definitions for epithet



English Language Learners Definition of epithet

: a word or phrase that describes a person or thing

: an offensive word or name that is used as a way of abusing or insulting someone


ep·i·thet | \ˈep-ə-ˌthet also -thət\

Medical Definition of epithet 

: the part of a scientific name identifying the species, variety, or other subunit within a genus — see specific epithet

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Comments on epithet

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


evasion of direct action or statement

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