ep·​i·​thet | \ ?e-p?-?thet also -th?t 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 \ ?e-​p?-​?the-​tik How to pronounce epithetic (audio) \ or epithetical \ ?e-​p?-​?the-​ti-​k?l 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 And that's not just because, on national television in a presumably formal address to the nation from the East Room of the White House, the president of the United States dropped what is politely called a barnyard epithet. Bill Goodykoontz, azcentral, "Freed of impeachment, Trump’s TV appearances put the bully in the bully pulpit," 6 Feb. 2020 Racial epithets from county officials were quoted correctly. Lee Cullum, Dallas News, "A Dallas journalist recalls Jim Lehrer’s impact on her career — and life," 6 Feb. 2020 The Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday night that UW officials are investigating an allegation that a racial epithet was used by a UW staffer. Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Erik Helland, strength coach for the Badgers' men's basketball program, has resigned in the wake of a UW investigation," 6 Feb. 2020 One involved anti-Semitic graffiti depicting a swastika; another was a student loudly yelling a racial epithet derogatory to African Americans. John Bacon, USA TODAY, "Syracuse University tightens security after latest racist incident, a 'white supremacist manifesto'," 20 Nov. 2019 The Calgary Flames fired Bill Peters last week after former player Akim Aliu, a Nigerian native, said Peters used a racial epithet while speaking to him in the American Hockey League a decade ago. Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press, "Darren McCarty: Mike Babcock cost Detroit Red Wings the Stanley Cup in 2009," 7 Dec. 2019 Let’s be clear: The people in South Boston who threw rocks and epithets at black kids on school buses were reprehensible racists. Kevin Cullen, BostonGlobe.com, "Opposing forced busing doesn’t mean you oppose integration," 1 July 2019 If Congress does not accept this invitation—which seems probable given the Senate’s penchant for not legislating—will America’s malls and parks soon be filled with trademarked vulgarities and epithets? S.m. | New York, The Economist, "The Supreme Court strikes down a bar on offensive trademarks," 25 June 2019 After the hit-and-run, Poole went to a convenience store and threw items at a clerk while directing racial epithets at him and customers, West Des Moines police said in a court document. BostonGlobe.com, "Poole remains in custody, pending $1 million cash bail.," 1 Jan. 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

10 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Epithet.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, http://www.anishanyc.com/dictionary/epithet. Accessed 19 Feb. 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 | \ ?ep-?-?thet also -th?t \

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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