Meliorative word

What? That’s not what comes to mind as the opposite of “pejorative term”?

Me neither. The ABC dictionary also offers “commendatory term” as an alternative to “meliorative word” in its definition of bāoyìcí (褒义词). But as far as my own English lexical organization goes, the hard fact is that there’s no standard opposite to “pejorative term.”

Mandarin is another story. For those of middle age persuasion, bāoyìcí (also pronounced bǎoyìcí) is the no-hesitating opposite of biǎnyìcí, which means “pejorative term.” It’s an opposition as perfectly natural as rough against smooth, thick against thin.

I found that odd, probably just because English seems much more comfortable with just the pejorative side. So I went up a generation in wisdom, as there are plenty of this demographic around the house for tomorrow’s new year’s eve celebrations.

But the story got messier. “Opposite of pejorative term?!” The elders offered some shrugged shoulders and a half-hearted zànyáng (赞扬 = praise). But no obvious pairing.

The only explanation I can come up with is educational, since one of my co-generationists offered a recollection of having been taught this in middle school.

It all sounds suspiciously like the form of text messaging Danwei has translated as “red snippets” (hóngduànzi, 红段子), which is being promoted by the government and, inevitably, mocked, as an alternative — maybe an opposite? — to “yellow snippets” (huángduànzi, 黄段子, better translated as “dirty jokes”) currently floating around the airwaves, looking for ways to evade censorship.

Is it possible that some 1980s educator proposed to popularize Meliorative Words as a healthy and uplifting alternative to Pejorative Terms?

2 responses to “Meliorative word”

  1. hsknotes says:

    “probably just because English seems much more comfortable with just the pejorative side.”


    sometimes try:

    euphemism ++, dysphemism —

    a clean way to get around a lot of the related “义词” issues is to talk about “negative and positive connotations” fumian, zhengmian, (or, again, often more appropriately, meiyoufumian de yisi, ‘lacking negative connotations, ie neutral, ie “not negative”).

    Both the chinese and english terms for a lot of these concepts often encapsulate many related, but different lingusitic phenomenon. This is actually a really deep and complex topic complicated by language change, generational attitudes, political correctness, reappropriation, etc.

    I can’t even really think of a classic example of something “euphemistically called…”. I can think of “politician” “used as” a perjorative term, for say, a mayor. But the best I can think of for something like the opposite is the popular, often in tech circles, use of “evangelist” to describe people who are essentially promoters. But I’m not convinced that’s such a great example of either a euphemism (I think janitor -> custodial engineer is the classic there) or the opposite of the revealed devaluing of something like “politician”. Anyway.

  2. Syz says:

    “probably just because English seems much more comfortable with just the pejorative side.”
    That was one of the dumber lines I’ve written in a while. Please strike from record.

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