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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from epithet

epithetic \ ˌe-​pə-​ˈthe-​tik How to pronounce epithet (audio) \ or epithetical \ ˌe-​pə-​ˈthe-​ti-​kəl How to pronounce epithet (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
See More
Recent Examples on the Web Diaz also claimed other factory workers repeatedly drew racial images on bathroom stalls that included swastikas, a racial epithet and caricatures of Black children, according to the Times. Jason Duaine Hahn, PEOPLE.com, 5 Oct. 2021 Anderson styled the Flandrien Hotel after this iconic team and the gritty, no-longer-just-geographical epithet. Carlton Reid, Forbes, 29 Aug. 2021 After investigating an apparent racial slur yelled by one of its fans, the Colorado Rockies said Monday that the fan was shouting to get the attention of the club's mascot, Dinger, rather than an offensive epithet. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 10 Aug. 2021 Andrew Breitbart didn’t believe it and offered up a $100,000 donation to the United Negro College Fund for proof that the epithet had been used. Joe Lowndes, The New Republic, 10 Aug. 2021 The epithet sparked outrage both in the athletic and gaming communities and prompted the Heat and FaZe Clan to suspend Leonard. BostonGlobe.com, 12 June 2019 Tommy Bryant, a white Tarrant city councilmen, used the racial epithet during a council meeting on Monday. Asha C. Gilbert, USA TODAY, 21 July 2021 Then one, apparently not realizing the audio was still live, used an expletive and the epithet as the Norman players kneeled. Ken Miller, Star Tribune, 12 Mar. 2021 Now the epithet was a celebration, but there was still, even in exultation, a bit more menace in its repetition than made real sense in the moment. Vinson Cunningham, The New Yorker, 2 June 2021

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About epithet

Time Traveler for epithet

Time Traveler

The first known use of epithet was in 1579

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About epithet

Dictionary Entries Near epithet




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for epithet

Last Updated

16 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Epithet.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epithet. Accessed 26 Oct. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

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

More from Merriam-Webster on epithet

Nglish: Translation of epithet for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of epithet for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about epithet


Test Your Vocabulary

Dog Words Quiz

  • shiba puppy more or less demanding cuddles
  • Which of the following animals has a dog in its etymology?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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