terms of disparagement

Term of disparagement

Terms of disparagement are pejorative words and phrases which are either intended to be or are often regarded as insulting, impolite or unkind.

While terms with a negative connotation are available for the discussion of many subjects (such as referring to an automobile as a jalopy) this article is limited to disparaging terms for people. Likewise, this article is limited to discussion of the English language.


Some terms (such as soccer mom, gay, or farm boy) are disparaging only in a particular context or with a certain intonation and are rarely considered disparaging otherwise. Other terms, such as fag and nigger have a history and connection to social issues that makes them widely regarded as taboo.

Many disparaging terms are synecdoches, such as mick, paddy, and taig, all of which are derived from Irish first names and are applied disparagingly to Irish people. Synecdoches can range from barely pejorative (e.g., referring to businesspeople as suits) to inflammatory (e.g. referring to German-speaking people as Nazis).

When applied to people, abbreviations are often regarded as disparaging. Referring to a Pakistani as a paki, a Japanese person as a jap, an Aborigine as an abo, or an Inuit as a skimo (short for Eskimo) are some examples.

Other terms of disparagement are based upon sarcasm (such as sahib in reference to Indians), metaphor (as in the basis of the term white trash), metalepsis (as in the term wetback), zoomorphism (a partial basis for the slur porch monkey) or other figures of speech.

Terms of disparagement also may combine figures of speech. For example, the term yid is an abbreviation of Yiddish and is as a synecdoche applied to Jews who neither speak Yiddish nor have a strong connection to Ashkenazi culture.

Some derogatory terms, such as schmuck and cunt, originate as terms for parts of the human anatomy (in this case, the foreskin and vagina, respectively).

Medical terms have been known to become terms of disparagement as well, such as idiot and retard (both of which were used by doctors to refer to people with low IQs or developmental disabilities).


Etiquette demands that the use of these terms, like any behavior likely to insult someone, should be avoided in most circumstances.

Some disparaging terms have been appropriated by some members of the demographic group they describe. The usage of these terms, including discussion about who can use them and when, is a subject of hot debate in many arenas

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