Pejoratives as fiction

Christopher Hom, Robert May

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Fictional terms have null extensions, and in this regard pejorative terms are a species of fictional term: although there are Jews, there are no kikes. The central consequence of the Moral and Semantic Innocence (MSI) view of Hom and May (2013) is that for pejoratives, null extensionality is the semantic realization of the moral fact that no one ought to be the target of negative moral evaluation solely in virtue of their group membership. In having null extensions, pejorative terms are much like mythological terms like "unicorn horn" that express concepts with empty extensions: people who believed the mythology were misled into thinking that ordinary objects (i.e., whale tusks) were magical objects, and pejorative terms work likewise. In this chapter, the consequences of this parallelism are explored, with an eye to criticisms of MSI. The chapter concludes with meta-semantic reflections on the nature of word meanings.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBad Words
Subtitle of host publicationPhilosophical Perspectives on Slurs
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)9780198758655
StatePublished - Aug 23 2018


  • Fictional terms
  • Mythological terms
  • Pejoratives
  • Semantics/pragmatics
  • Slurs


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