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

But the other half of that epithet was, at the time, harder to deny. Liana Schaffner, Teen Vogue, "The Boys at Brett Kavanaugh's School Called the Girls at Mine the "Whores on the Hill" and I Believed Them," 27 Sep. 2018 The resurfaced tweets in question show Lee making racist remarks and using racial epithets. Leah Prinzivalli, Allure, "Is Laura Lee Getting Dropped by Beauty Brands Because of Her Past Racist Tweets?," 22 Aug. 2018 While there has not yet been a serious episode at these rallies, the mood has turned increasingly menacing, with supporters snapping pictures of reporters while screaming epithets at them. Mark Landler, New York Times, "Condemning Deadly Newsroom Shooting, Trump Tempers Hostility Toward Media," 29 June 2018 Smith-Pelly, who is black, garnered his most attention when a fan in Chicago hurled racial epithets at him during a game. Adam Kilgore, chicagotribune.com, "Capitals' Devante Smith-Pelly has gone from unwanted to unlikely hero," 5 June 2018 Both comics were referring to some of the epithets Trump used to insult them as well as their ABC rival, Jimmy Kimmel. NBC News, "Late-night hosts Fallon, Colbert and Conan team up in response to Trump rally," 27 June 2018 Law enforcement officials say 27-year-old Dusty Leo and 34-year-old Maurice Diggins insulted the victim with a racial epithet before attacking him outside a convenience store in Biddeford. Fox News, "Prosecutor: 2 white men beat, chase black man with truck," 16 May 2018 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

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

17 Nov 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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by force of circumstances

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