A pejorative or slur is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative or a disrespectful connotation, a low opinion, or a lack of respect toward someone or something. It is also used to express criticism, hostility, or disregard. Sometimes, a term is regarded as pejorative in some social or ethnic groups but not in others, or may be originally pejorative but later adopt a non-pejorative sense (or vice versa) in some or all contexts.
Pejoration and melioration
In historical linguistics, the process of an inoffensive word becoming pejorative is a form of semantic drift known as pejoration. An example of pejoration is the shift in meaning of the word silly from meaning that a person was happy and fortunate to meaning that they are foolish and unsophisticated. The process of pejoration can repeat itself around a single concept, leaping from word to word in a phenomenon known as the euphemism treadmill, for example as in the successive pejoration of the terms bog-house, privy-house, latrine, water closet, toilet, bathroom and restroom.
When a term begins as pejorative and eventually is adopted in a non-pejorative sense, this is called melioration or amelioration. One example is the shift in meaning of the word nice from meaning a person was foolish to meaning that a person is pleasant. When performed deliberately, it is described as reclamation or reappropriation. An example of a reclaimed word is queer, which was re-appropriated as a positive term by activists and academics starting in the early 1990s.
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- Bell, Vicars Walker (1953). On Learning the English Tongue. Faber & Faber. p. 19.
The Honest Jakes or Privy has graduated via Offices to the final horror of Toilet.
- Nordquist, Richard (3 October 2019). "What Is the Process of Amelioration in Language?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
- Brontsema, Robin (2004-06-01). "A Queer Revolution: Reconceptualizing the Debate Over Linguistic Reclamation". Colorado Research in Linguistics. 17 (1). doi:10.25810/dky3-zq57. ISSN 1937-7029.
Linguistic reclamation, also known as linguistic resignification or reappropriation, refers to the appropriation of a pejorative epithet by its target(s).
- Nunn, Gary (2015-10-30). "Power grab: reclaiming words can be such a bitch". the Guardian. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
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- Henderson, Anita (Spring 2003). "What's in a Slur?". American Speech. 78 (1). Project MUSE. pp. 52–74.
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