Definition of Pejorative

Pejorative means to express disapproval or contempt for something or somebody. In other words, it means the use of a word or a phrase in a negative sense or in connotations that strike negativity to the readers or audiences. It could be a sentence or a phrase or a word.

In literature, it means the use of a slur or a word or grammatical construction to cause negative connotations in the minds of the readers. Mostly, an author uses it when he wants to express his disapproval or he intends to criticize something, or even give a disregard or express hostility toward somebody, or something, or some idea.

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.”

Taken from an article from a Pakistani newspaper, Jannat Majeed has shown that like American colorism where pejorative terms are used against a certain section of the society, the term “kala” is used in the South Asian context in a pejorative sense. 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

From 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. Foster, A Passage to India, in which he presents the story of the Indian people and their relationships with the British Raj. The term India has been used in this passage in a pejorative sense in the view of the Indian readers as it is linked with “plight” that does not sound positive here. The reason is that every country has its own context and situation and that no outsider can depict the real situation of the people of a country and use such negative words.

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 of Tara Katha, an Indian journalist. She has mentioned China once in it but the tone of the Claus “and China’s role in it” shows the negativity she has associated with it. It shows as if China is a character in this drama and that it has played a role in bringing pandemics to the world. Although she has obliquely left the subject of the phrase “covers up go on” yet her bias is clear from this association of negativity.

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 constantly harp on the word “nigger” to show not only their bias but also express hostility through their use of this word. It is a pejorative sense that Hemingway has shown through these characters expressing prejudice and hostility.

Functions of Pejorative

The functions of pejorative terms in literature are varied. Not only does the use of pejoratives motivate and influence the readers, but also they cause bias and prejudice. They spread negativity or positivity according to the use the authors make of them in their writings. They are also useful to spread positive news and feelings about one or the other nations.