An epithet (from Greek: ἐπίθετον epitheton, neuter of ἐπίθετος epithetos, "attributed, added"[1]) is a byname, or a descriptive term (word or phrase), accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It can also be a descriptive title: for example, Pallas Athena, Alfred the Great, Suleiman the Magnificent or Władysław I the Elbow-high.

In contemporary use, epithet often refers to an abusive, defamatory, or derogatory phrase, such as a racial[2] or animal epithet.[3] This use as a euphemism is criticized by Martin Manser and other proponents of linguistic prescription.[4]


Epithets are sometimes attached to a person's name or appear in place of his or her name, as what might be described as a glorified nickname or sobriquet. An epithet is linked to its noun by long-established usage. Not every adjective is an epithet. An epithet is especially recognizable when its function is largely decorative, such as if "cloud-gathering Zeus" is employed other than in reference to conjuring up a storm. "The epithets are decorative insofar as they are neither essential to the immediate context nor modeled especially for it. Among other things, they are extremely helpful to fill out a half-verse", Walter Burkert has noted.[5]

Some epithets are known by the Latin term epitheton necessarium because they are required to distinguish the bearers, e.g. as an alternative to numbers after a prince's name—such as Richard the Lionheart (Richard I of England), or Charles the Fat alongside Charles the Bald. The same epithet can be used repeatedly joined to different names, e.g. Alexander the Great as well as Constantine the Great.

Other epithets can easily be omitted without serious risk of confusion, and are therefore known (again in Latin) as epitheton ornans. Thus the classical Roman author Virgil systematically called his main hero pius Aeneas, the epithet being pius, which means religiously observant, humble and wholesome, as well as calling the armsbearer of Aeneas fidus Achates, the epithet being fidus, which means faithful or loyal.

There are also specific types of epithets, such as the kenning which appears in works such as Beowulf. An example of a kenning would be using the term whale-road instead of the word "sea".

Other Languages
asturianu: Epítetu
azərbaycanca: Epitet
башҡортса: Эпитет
беларуская: Эпітэт
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Эпітэт
български: Епитет
català: Epítet
čeština: Epiteton
Deutsch: Epitheton
eesti: Epiteet
español: Epíteto
Esperanto: Epiteto
euskara: Epiteto
français: Épithète
galego: Epíteto
հայերեն: Մակդիր
Արեւմտահայերէն: Մակդիր
hrvatski: Epitet
Ido: Epiteto
interlingua: Epitheto
italiano: Epiteto
עברית: אפיתט
ქართული: ეპითეტი
kaszëbsczi: Epitet
қазақша: Эпитет
latviešu: Epitets
lietuvių: Epitetas
македонски: Епитет
Nederlands: Epitheton
日本語: 形容語句
norsk: Epitet
norsk nynorsk: Epitet
polski: Epitet
português: Epíteto
română: Epitet
русиньскый: Епитет
русский: Эпитет
Scots: Epithet
shqip: Epiteti
slovenčina: Epiteton
slovenščina: Ukrasni pridevek
српски / srpski: Епитет
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Epitet
suomi: Epiteetti
svenska: Epitet
Türkçe: Lakap
українська: Епітет