noun ep·i·thet \ ˈe-pə-ˌthet also -thət \
Updated on: 28 Jan 2018

Definition of epithet

1 a : 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


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

epithet was our Word of the Day on 01/05/2012. Hear the podcast!

Examples of epithet in a Sentence

  1. His charitable works have earned him the epithet “Mr. Philanthropy.”

  2. Many were offended by her use of racial epithets.

  3. a group of angry people hurling epithets at one another

Recent Examples of epithet from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of epithet

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

EPITHET Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of epithet for English Language Learners

  • : 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

Medical Dictionary


noun 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

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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


confident and optimistic

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Namesakes Word Quiz

  • a-citrus-fruit-possibly-named-after-a-person
  • Which of the following is a fruit named after a Moroccan seaport?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


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!