Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. The process or condition of worsening or degenerating.
  • n. Linguistics The process by which the meaning of a word becomes negative or less elevated over a period of time, as silly, which formerly meant "deserving sympathy, helpless or simple,” has come to mean "showing a lack of good sense, frivolous.”

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The act or process of becoming worse; worsening or degeneration
  • n. The process by which a word acquires a more negative meaning over time

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Deterioration; a becoming worse: specifically used in Scots law.
  • n. Depreciation; a lowering or deterioration of sense in a word.

Etymologies

Medieval Latin pēiōrātiō, pēiōrātiōn-, from Late Latin pēiōrātus, past participle of pēiōrāre, to make worse, from Latin pēior, worse; see ped- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin peior ("worse") (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Crafty once meant powerful, and cunning meant knowledgeable; each has gradually taken on negative connotations (this is called pejoration).

    Catachresis and the amusing, awful and artificial cathedral

  • In the United Kingdom the word is still often used in this sense, but it later underwent pejoration.

    WN.com - Business News

  • This is a customary Orthodox conclusion, and I mean no pejoration here.

    orrologion

  • I don't really care whose "fault" the pejoration may be, I just stay away.

    North Coast Journal Comments

  • Although many articles, theoretical essays, and books have been written about metaphors, little effort has been made to investigate them systematically: as all of language is itself a metaphor (unless one believes in logomancy), one is continually confronted in the compilation of an ordinary dictionary with examples of semantic and linguistic changes (as well as amelioration, pejoration, etc.) that are tantamount to shifts of meaning that, loosely, could be said to be metaphoric.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XIX No 3

  • Terms such as toilet and lavatory have, like privy, undergone pejoration over the years (that is, their meanings have acquired depreciatory connotations).

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XIX No 4

  • My own observation is that Informal might be undergoing its own round of pejoration -- these things sometimes go in cycles -- and, in a reference book I recently completed, which will be published by Oxford University Press in the autumn of 1991, I have chosen to return to Colloq.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XVII No 4

  • Other, more objective treatises have been more likely to use a variety of terms with less cumulatively pejorative force -- cumulatively, because a term used once may carry only slight negative connotation but, used frequently, can create a considerable sense of pejoration in the mind of the reader.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol X No 4

  • The Norsemen were apparently as sexist as we are: all of the following, flag, giglet, gimmer, skit, and slattern generally mean ` low, contemptible woman '; only may ` maiden' has survived with specific reference to women without pejoration.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XI No 3

  • Other words without necessary pejoration: fellow, literally ` fee-layer '; guest, replacing OE g (i) est; and ombudsman.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XI No 3

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  • transform all idiomatic expressions in which 'well', 'good', and the like feature to pejorate them: 'that will do just as badly', 'for bad and all', and so forth. Casanova, Samuel Beckett

    January 6, 2007