Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Epithet

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is epithet. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

An epithet is “a characterizing word or phrase that accompanies, or occurs in place of, the name of a person or thing” or “a disparaging or abusive word or phrase.”

// Richard the First is frequently referred to by the epithet “Lionheart.”

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

EPITHET in Context

“Seeing the [Combat Veterans motorcycle club] holding American Flags … brings back a lot of patriotic emotions. WWII vets are part of what has been referred to as ‘The Greatest Generation.’ I wonder what the epithet will be for our current generation.” — Stephen Rowland, The Daily Herald (Columbia, Tennessee), 23 Mar. 2022

Did You Know?

Nowadays, epithet is usually used negatively, with the meaning “a disparaging word or phrase,” but it wasn’t always that way. Epithet comes from Greek epitithenai, meaning “to put on” or “to add.” In its oldest sense, epithet is simply a descriptive word or phrase, especially one joined by fixed association to the name of someone or something, as in “Ivan the Great” or the Homeric phrase “wine-dark sea.”

Leave a Reply