Definitions

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

  • n. A term used to characterize a person or thing, such as rosy-fingered in rosy-fingered dawn or the Great in Catherine the Great.
  • n. A term used as a descriptive substitute for the name or title of a person, such as The Great Emancipator for Abraham Lincoln.
  • n. An abusive or contemptuous word or phrase.
  • n. Biology A word in the scientific name of an animal or plant following the name of the genus and denoting a species, variety, or other division of the genus, as sativa in Lactuca sativa.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A term used to characterize a person or thing.
  • n. A term used as a descriptive substitute for the name or title of a person.
  • n. An abusive or contemptuous word or phrase.
  • n. A word in the scientific name of a taxon following the name of the genus or species. This applies only to formal names of plants, fungi and bacteria. In formal names of animals the corresponding term is the specific name.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. An adjective expressing some quality, attribute, or relation, that is properly or specially appropriate to a person or thing.
  • n. Term; expression; phrase.
  • transitive v. To describe by an epithet.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. An adjective, or a word or phrase used as an adjective, expressing some real quality of the person or thing to which it is applied, or attributing some quality or character to the person or thing: as, a benevolent or a hard-hearted man; a scandalous exhibition; sphinx-like mystery; a Fabian policy.
  • n. Hence In rhetoric, a term added to impart strength or ornament to diction, and differing from an adjective in that it designates as well as qualifies, and may take the form of a surname: as, Dionysius the Tyrant; Alexander the Great.
  • n. A phrase; an expression.
  • To entitle; describe by epithets.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a defamatory or abusive word or phrase
  • n. descriptive word or phrase

Etymologies

Latin epitheton, from Greek, neuter of epithetos, added, attributed, from epitithenai, epithe-, to add to : epi-, epi- + tithenai, to place.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin, from Ancient Greek ἐπίθετον (epitheton, "adjective"), the neuter of ἐπίθετος (epithetos, "attributed, added"), from ἐπιτιθέναι (epitithenai, "to add on"), from ἐπι- (epi-) + τιθέναι (tithenai, "to put") (from Proto-Indo-European *dhe- (“to put, to do”)). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • As a general thing, we understand that the person to whom the epithet is applied is a lazy, lumpy bumpkin.

    Janey Canuck in the West

  • In fact, normally the opposite sort of epithet is applied: "dork" or "nerd" have frequently been flung at me (and accepted with pride).

    SF Signal Welcomes Terry Weyna

  • For one I clearly said I favor high IQ immigration, which can, of course, include Latinos, so your 'xenophobe' epithet is empty trashtalk.

    A Childish Question About Immigration, Bryan Caplan | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty

  • The racial epithet is a botched way of advancing a deep ideological necessity for Al Qaeda: to keep its narrative going, Zawahiri has to define Obama as not authentically American.

    You Hurt Yourself | ATTACKERMAN

  • I got smart enough this time around to at least turn off general chat, which spares me a lot of grousing about whatever sexist/racist epithet is being flung about this particular hour.

    so fucking typical « Love | Peace | Ohana

  • Till the time consumerism ceases to be a pejorative epithet in India, let's learn to play by the rules and with fellow-feeling.

    To Nano or not to Nano

  • At least at a glance it seems that the only church AP feels the need to qualify (or disqualify) with a political epithet is a church being discriminated against for welcoming all people, a seemingly "liberal" concept.

    12/01/2004

  • They came here expecting to hear taunts and the occasional indelicate epithet from the stands.

    A hero from obscurity

  • The reason for this highly appreciative epithet is probably that de Gennes has succeeded in perceiving common features in order phenomena in very widely differing physical systems, and has been able to formulate rules for how such systems move from order to disorder.

    Press Release: The 1991 Nobel Prize in Physics

  • Nonetheless, this work may rightly be called classic, but in a deeper and more profound sense than usual if this epithet is to express something other and more than vague praise.

    Nobel Prize for Literature 1920 - Presentation Speech

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