Pejorative

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Pejorative comes from the Latin peior, meaning 'worse', through the past participle peioratus of the verb peiorare, 'to make worse', and later "to endow (a word) with a less favourable meaning" (OED 2005). ('-j-' is the usual transliteration of the Latin consonantal '-i-'.) In English, it is used of words and expressions, and it means that they 'show something in a bad light' or 'make things look bad'. Synonyms include 'disparaging', 'belittling', 'derogatory' and 'degrading'.

For example, the word 'Tory', which was a slang word meaning 'outlaw' or 'bandit', was originally a pejorative nickname for members of a political party. It has now lost its pejorative meaning, and is used neutrally to mean members of the Conservative Party in modern Britain.

There are many areas of life for which different words exist. Which word one uses depends on one's point of view. At times, they show one's prejudices, or at least an ideological position. People on the same side as what a neutral might call a 'guerrilla fighter' may call him positively a 'freedom fighter'; his enemies may call him, pejoratively, a 'terrorist'. This suggests that the speaker thinks he is a dangerous criminal who should be locked up.

Note on pronunciation: the older, more traditional pronunciation in British academic circles has the stress on the second syllable, which has a vowel like the first in 'orange; - 'per-JOR-er-tive', IPA: /pədʒ ˈɒr ə tɪv/. There is also a growing trend to pronounce it in a way which may have originally been American (although the rarer verb 'to pejorate' was only recorded as 'PEE-jer-ate' in N.E.D. 1904); this has the stress on the first syllable, which has the vowel of 'see' - 'PEE-jer-'t-iv', IPA: /ˈpiː dʒər ə tɪv/. There is also a US pronunciation 'PEDJ-er-ATE-ive, IPA: /ˈpɛdʒ ər ˌeɪ tɪv/.
You may also want to see also dysphemism, and meliorative, the antonym of 'pejorative'