Definition of Pejorative

Pejorative, a term indicating disapproval or contempt, is language used negatively to evoke unfavorable feelings. Writers utilize it to criticize or convey hostility, often employing slurs or negative phrases. It serves to denounce or express disapproval of a person, idea, or concept, inducing a sense of disregard. It functions as a linguistic tool to create a sense of aversion or rejection in the reader’s mind, emphasizing the author’s disapproval or criticism. Its employment within literature can be a potent device to convey disdain or censure, shaping the audience’s perception with negative connotations. When wielded skillfully, it can effectively underscore the author’s contemptuous or hostile stance, influencing readers to adopt a similar perspective.

Examples of Pejorative in Literature

Example #1

“It’s time we stopped using ‘kala’ as an insult and respected the African-American community” By Jannat Majeed from Dawn on February 27, 2017

“The colourism that is endemic in our cultures is reflected through our fear of dark skin and our attempts to lighten our skin as much as possible, through the use of creams like Fair and Lovely. Many South Asians both in the United States and in South Asia use terms like “kala” to derogatorily refer to African-Americans and peoples of African descent. We perpetuate false and racist beliefs about African-Americans being more likely to be criminals.”

The usage of derogatory terms against a specific section of society, akin to American colorism, is explored by Jannat Majeed in an article from a Pakistani newspaper, highlighting the pejorative connotation of the term “kala” in the South Asian context. Therefore, it is time that these pejorative terms should end. Here “kala” which means black in color is a pejorative term used for the people of color from the South Asian context.

Example #2

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

“You mustn’t put off what you think right,” said Hamidullah. “That is why India is in such a plight, because we put off things.” But seeing that his young relative looked worried, he added a few soothing words, and thus wiped out any impression that his wife might have made. During their absence, Mahmoud Ali had gone off in his carriage leaving a message that he should be back in five minutes, but they were on no account to wait.

This extract occurs in the popular novel of E. M. Forster, A Passage to India, in which he presents the story of the Indian people and their relationships with the British Raj. Indian readers may find the way the term “India” is used in this passage derogatory, as it is linked to the negative idea of “plight.”

Example #3

“Why the Suspicion…” by Tara Katha

It’s been nearly eighteen months since the coronavirus brought the world on its knees, with India in the middle of a deadly second wave that is claiming 4,000 lives daily on an average. No one can tell when this will end. But it is possible to probe how this catastrophe began, and China’s role in it. Fortunately, even as cover ups go on. Several reports are out in the public domain and anybody who isn’t afraid of speaking the truth should be able to connect the dots.

(Tara Katha from The Print)

This extract occurs in the article by Tara Katha, an Indian journalist. The mention of China in it was made only once, but the negative tone conveyed by the Claus “and China’s role in it” is evident. It shows as if China is a character in this drama and that it has played a role in bringing pandemics to the world. While she may have indirectly shifted away from addressing the phrase “covers up, go on,” her bias is clear through this negative association.

Example #4

The Killer by Earnest Hemingway

None of your damned business,”
Al said. “Who’s out in the kitchen?”
“The ni***r.”
“What do you mean the ni***r?”
“The nigger that cooks.”
“Tell him to come in.”
“What’s the idea?”
“Tell him to come in.”
“Where do you think you are?”
“We know damn well where we are,” the man called Max said.
“Do we look silly?”
“You talk silly,” A1 said to him.
“What the hell do you argue with this kid for?
Listen,” he said to George, “tell the ni***r to come out here.”
“What are you going to do to him?”
“Nothing. Use your head, bright boy. What would we do to a ni***r?”

This extract occurs in the short story “The Killer” by Hemingway. Al and Max continually fixate on the word “nig**r” as a means to exhibit not only their prejudice, but also their aggression in the way they employ this term. It is a pejorative sense that Hemingway has shown through these characters expressing prejudice and hostility.

Functions of Pejorative

Pejorative terms in literature serve multifaceted functions. They possess the power to captivate and sway readers, effectively shaping their perceptions. The use of these words can provoke bias and prejudice, altering the tone of the narrative and shaping the audience’s perspective. Depending on an author’s choice and context, pejoratives can disseminate negativity or positivity. These tools are capable of evoking both constructive and destructive sentiments about individuals, nations, or concepts, demonstrating their versatility. In the realm of literature, pejoratives serve as a potent tool for authors, allowing them not only to critique and condemn but also to celebrate and praise, granting them the ability to effectively convey an extensive array of emotions and opinions. Their impact is profound, allowing authors to craft nuanced narratives that resonate with their readers.