How to Avoid Pejoratives
The simplest way to avoid pejoratives is to manage your intentions.
- Ask yourself: Are you trying to insult someone or make them look bad? If not, then your writing is likely to be free of pejoratives.
- Another way to do it is to imagine that your work was being read by someone of the target group – would they feel that you were being fair in your criticisms, or would they get angry?
This, however, may not always be effective, because people sometimes use pejoratives without meaning to. For example, the word “gypsy” is actually considered offensive by many members of that community, and the preferred term is “Roma” or “Romani.” However, many people are unaware of this social dynamic and may accidentally cause offense with their writing. The same thing occurs with the word “midget.”
Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid this sort of accidental pejorative 100% of the time – even the most socially aware people occasionally make mistakes. If someone from the affected group politely corrects you, be sure to thank them and follow their advice.
When are Pejoratives OK?
Although pejoratives are almost always unacceptable in formal writing, they might be effective in creative writing when used carefully. For example, some of your characters will probably have negative attributes, meaning you might end up using pejoratives to describe them.
Naturally, characters may use pejoratives all the time in their dialogue – this is how people speak in real life, after all! Almost everyone uses pejoratives in their daily speech, even if it’s just as simple as calling someone a jerk for cutting in line. So if your characters speak in a way that is completely devoid of pejoratives, they might not sound realistic!
When you include pejoratives in your writing, it’s best to make them creative and well-suited to their context. For example, imagine you have a character who is intelligent, but whose personality is very abrasive. Such a character wouldn’t just go around calling everyone a “loser” or a “dork” – they would come up with clever insults and draw on various literary techniques. (On the other hand, if your character is not very intelligent, then uncreative insults would be appropriate!)
Here are a few literary devices you can use in crafting creative pejoratives:
- Alliteration: craven, cowardly, crusty old cretin
- Simile: You’re about as low as a bow-legged snake
- Rhyme: twofold slime mold