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.[1] 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.

The word pejorative is derived from a Late Latin past participle stem of peiorare, meaning "to make worse", from peior "worse".[2]

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.[3] 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.[4][5]

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.[6] When performed deliberately, it is described as reclamation or reappropriation.[7] An example of a word that has been reclaimed by portions of the community that it targets is queer, which began being re-appropriated as a positive descriptor in the early 1990s by activist groups.[8] However, due to its history and – in some regions – continued use as a pejorative, there remain LGBT individuals who are uncomfortable with having this term applied to them.[9] This suggests that reclaiming a pejorative epithet is ultimately a complex and lengthy process, as the practice can receive varying degrees of support within the social group or subculture that is involved.