Word of the Day : June 12, 2018

epithet

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noun EP-uh-thet

Definition

1 : a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing

2 : a disparaging or abusive word or phrase

3 : the part of a taxonomic name identifying a subordinate unit within a genus

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

The school's policy makes it clear that derogatory epithets will not be tolerated.

"Herbert Hoover, who could justifiably campaign as a progressive Republican, pigeonholed Smith as an advocate of state socialism (the same epithet that a spiteful Smith would hurl at Roosevelt in 1936)." — Sam Roberts, The New York Times, 22 Apr. 2018



Test Your Vocabulary

Fill in the blanks to complete a word that refers to the use of an epithet in place of a proper name (as "the Bard" for "Shakespeare"): an _ _ no _ _ s _ a.

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