ep·​i·​thet | \ ˈe-pə-ˌthet How to pronounce epithet (audio) 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 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 The attorneys also questioned whether a deputy, in one of the body camera videos, called Melvin a racial epithet. David Harris, orlandosentinel.com, "Body cam shows man slain by Orange sheriff’s deputy was no threat, family’s attorneys say," 19 Aug. 2020 Starter Tyler Anderson shot that epithet with bazooka force into the Anaheim night Monday after a three-run fifth inning that cost the Giants a lead, the big hit a two-run Albert Pujols double. Henry Schulman, SFChronicle.com, "Ninth-inning lightning shocks Giants again — another homer off Gott, another loss," 17 Aug. 2020 According to a report from Madison police, Bernstein heard someone yell a racial epithet at her. Lawrence Andrea, USA TODAY, "Wisconsin woman sprayed with lighter fluid, burned by lighter in suspected hate crime: police," 26 June 2020 In a separate incident, Max Boyens and Brett Caprioni were both booted from the series after racist tweets from 2012 resurfaced, in which both had used a racial epithet on multiple occasions. Jenna Ryu, USA TODAY, "All the celebrities who've been fired for their racist comments, as Hollywood takes account," 20 June 2020 According to a report from Madison police, someone yelled a racial epithet at Bernstein, threw lighter fluid on her through her open window and ignited it with a lighter. Lawrence Andrea, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "FBI joining investigation into hate attack on Madison woman who says 4 men burned her with lighter fluid," 26 June 2020 And Kimmel's statement followed Donald Trump Jr.'s criticism of the late-night talk show host, who's made Trump's father, the president, a frequent target, for using a racial epithet in a separate incident in 1996. Jenna Ryu, USA TODAY, "Jimmy Kimmel apologizes for 'embarrassing' blackface sketches, says he's 'evolved'," 23 June 2020 The employee, Brandon Brackins, said he was almost hit by a driver who spit on him and called him a racial epithet. Aimee Picchi, CBS News, "FedEx "saddened and outraged" after driver reports racist abuse," 16 June 2020 According to internal documents shared by the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association, Colina had used a racial epithet to describe Overtown, a historically Black neighborhood of Miami. NBC News, "'Embrace the change': Some Black officers sidestep unions to support police reform," 7 June 2020

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

28 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Epithet.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epithet. Accessed 20 Sep. 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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