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

Over nine decades, most of them in the public eye and sometimes not in a good way, Vanderbilt's storied name could have been followed by any number of epithets ranging from sad little Gloria to shy young beauty. Maria Puente, USA TODAY, "Gloria Vanderbilt dead at age 95: 'What an extraordinary woman,' son Anderson Cooper says," 17 June 2019 In the United States, a person is within their constitutional rights to use racial epithets, wear the Nazi swastika or wave a Confederate flag. Katie Mettler, Washington Post, "South Africa bans most displays of the apartheid flag, a symbol of ‘a crime against humanity’," 21 Aug. 2019 His successor, Republican Richard Nixon, also regularly used racist epithets while in office in private conversations. Russell Contreras, Fortune, "Donald Trump Is Not the First U.S. President to Be Called Racist," 30 July 2019 Hazel Bryan, 15, shouted that and other epithets at Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine black students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Joseph Gerth, The Courier-Journal, "Why doesn't Elaine Chao 'go back' to China? She can fix the huge problems there," 16 July 2019 In 2006, John White, a black man, shot and killed one of the five white teen-agers who appeared outside his Long Island home shouting racial epithets and accusing his son of wanting to rape a white girl. Jeannie Suk Gersen, The New Yorker, "The End of the Gay-Panic Legal Defense," 8 July 2019 In one instance, that included a black mother who vented on Facebook after a stranger hurled a profanity-laced racist epithet at her children. Rachel Siegel, The Seattle Times, "Chicago CVS employees call 911 on black woman trying to use a coupon," 16 July 2018 In one instance, an employee listed a racial epithet as the customer name. SFChronicle.com, "Wells Fargo to pay $386 million; Russia cracks down on Tinder," 7 June 2019 That's when four white men rushed toward them, shouting racial epithets. al.com, "Who killed James Reeb? NPR ‘White Lies’ podcast shines light on 1965 Selma murder," 19 June 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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Statistics for epithet

Last Updated

8 Sep 2019

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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).


formidable, illustrious, or eminent

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