ep·​i·​thet | \ ˈe-pə-ˌthet also -thət How to pronounce epithet (audio) \

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 How to pronounce epithetic (audio) \ or epithetical \ ˌe-​pə-​ˈthe-​ti-​kəl How to pronounce epithetical (audio) \ 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 There were reports that the team's second-leading scorer, Kobe King, decided to transfer from the program due to a racial epithet directed at him. Allen Kim, CNN, "University of Wisconsin coach resigns after allegedly using a racial epithet around student-athletes," 6 Feb. 2020 Buckley seemed an ideal alternative: an articulate, prominent sociopolitical critic who eschewed the racist epithets of conservativism’s more vocal white supremacists but who nonetheless supported segregation. Gabrielle Bellot, The Atlantic, "The Famous Baldwin-Buckley Debate Still Matters Today," 2 Dec. 2019 The district's decision to terminate Anderson came after officials there grappled with a string of incidents involving race — including other teachers or staff members who use racial epithets in front of students. Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Outrage grows after Madison schools fire black security guard who told student to not call him the N-word by using it himself," 18 Oct. 2019 And that's not just because, on national television in a presumably formal address to the nation from the East Room of the White House, the president of the United States dropped what is politely called a barnyard epithet. Bill Goodykoontz, azcentral, "Freed of impeachment, Trump’s TV appearances put the bully in the bully pulpit," 6 Feb. 2020 Racial epithets from county officials were quoted correctly. Lee Cullum, Dallas News, "A Dallas journalist recalls Jim Lehrer’s impact on her career — and life," 6 Feb. 2020 The Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday night that UW officials are investigating an allegation that a racial epithet was used by a UW staffer. Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Erik Helland, strength coach for the Badgers' men's basketball program, has resigned in the wake of a UW investigation," 6 Feb. 2020 One involved anti-Semitic graffiti depicting a swastika; another was a student loudly yelling a racial epithet derogatory to African Americans. John Bacon, USA TODAY, "Syracuse University tightens security after latest racist incident, a 'white supremacist manifesto'," 20 Nov. 2019 The Calgary Flames fired Bill Peters last week after former player Akim Aliu, a Nigerian native, said Peters used a racial epithet while speaking to him in the American Hockey League a decade ago. Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press, "Darren McCarty: Mike Babcock cost Detroit Red Wings the Stanley Cup in 2009," 7 Dec. 2019

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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Time Traveler for epithet

Time Traveler

The first known use of epithet was in 1579

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Last Updated

24 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Epithet.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epithet. Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for epithet


How to pronounce epithet (audio)

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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