What is a slur?

  • Justina Diaz-LegaspeEmail author


Although there seems to be an agreement on what slurs are, many authors diverge when it comes to classify some words as such. Hence, many debates would benefit from a technical definition of this term that would allow scholars to clearly distinguish what counts as a slur and what not. Although the paper offers different definitions of the term in order to allow the reader to choose her favorite, I claim that ‘slurs’ is the name given to a grammatical category, and I consequently trace a difference in kind between slurs and other kinds of group pejoratives. I rely on a novel approach to slurs that characterizes them based on their membership to a particular kind of register category, an often neglected sociolinguistic notion determining the social contexts in which registered terms are expected, tolerated or unacceptable. The paper also points out to the close link between words registered as [+derogatory] (slurs) and their usage in the context of dominance relations of different kinds between users and recipients of slurs. By pointing out to this link I hope to underscore the political significance of slur usage, as well as to contribute further to the explanation why slurs are so damaging and unacceptable in most social contexts.


Slurs Derogatory language Discrimination Type-meaning Register 



This paper emerges as part of a research project conducted in Western University and partially financed by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada through grants to R. J. Stainton. It owes much to many people: the people in the slurs reading group of the Philosophy Department in Western University (Rob Stainton, Chang Liu, Jiangtian Li, Mike Korngut and Julia Lei), the Philosophy of Language and Linguistics group of the SADAF institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Eleonora Orlando and Andres Saab, Ramiro Caso, Nicolas Lo Guercio, Alfonso Losada, among others). Comments of another paper presented at the DEX VI Conference in UC Davis inspired and helped put the last details on the original ideas. I thank for this Adam Sennet, David Copp, Tina Rulli, Roberta Millstein, Adrian Currie, Ram Neta, and Tyrus Fisher.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Philosophical Investigations, Argentinean Society of Philosophical AnalysisNational Scientific and Technological Research Council (IIF-SADAF-CONICET)Buenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.University of Western OntarioLondonCanada
  3. 3.National University at La PlataLa PlataArgentina

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