A puzzle about pejoratives

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Pejoratives are the class of expressions that are meant to insult or disparage. They include swear words and slurs. These words allow speakers to convey emotional states beyond the truth-conditional contents that they are normally taken to encode. The puzzle arises because, although pejoratives seem to be a semantically unified class, some of their occurrences are best accounted for truth-conditionally, while others are best accounted for non-truth-conditionally. Where current, non-truth-conditional, views in the literature fail to provide a unified solution for the puzzle, this paper motivates a novel, semantic, analysis of pejorative language. The significance of the proposed solution is not only linguistic in nature, but also philosophical, as it both provides a new argument for, and sheds further light on, the nature of semantic externalism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-405
Number of pages23
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Expressive language
  • Pejoratives
  • Philosophy of language
  • Pragmatics
  • Semantics


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