• epithet •
Pronunciation: e-pê-thet • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary
Meaning: A descriptive word or phrase, representing a personal judgment, used to characterize someone or something, such as referring to someone as "a legend", dirty in 'Dirty Harry' or 'dirty old man', or "lionheart" in 'Richard the Lionheart'.
Notes: Epithets may be laudatory or derogatory, as exemplified in the Meaning above. The adjective is either epithetic or epithetical, but only the latter may serve as base of the adverb, epithetically.
In Play: Epithets are ever-present in our speech, whenever someone shares a judgment: "It has become commonplace to add the epithet 'green' to everything environmentally friendly, regardless of its color." "Billy demurred from an elaborate tattoo because he didn't want to hear the epithets he would have to endure in school."
Word History: English picked this one up either from Middle French épithète or directly from Latin epitheton, source also of Portuguese and Spanish epíteto and Italian epiteto. Latin borrowed the word from the neuter of Greek epithetos "attributed, added", the past participle of epitithenai "to add on", based on epi "on(to)" + tithenai "to put, to place", a reduplicated form of PIE root dhe-/dho- "to set, put", origin also of English do and doom, and Russian duma "national assembly". Since the voiced aspirated consonants ([bh] and [dh]) both became [f] in Latin, we are not surprised to find the same word in Latin as facere "to do", visible in many English borrowings, such as fact, facile, and face, from the Latin derivative facies "shape, form, face". (Should we cast an epithet on William Hupy for submitting such eminent Good Words as today's, it would certainly be "stalwart contributor".)