Epithet vs sobriquet

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An epithet is a word or phrase that describes an attribute that characterizes a particular person. Usually, an epithet is disparaging, but not always. An epithet may also be a title that describes an attribute of a person or thing, such as Edward the Confessor and Richard the Lionheart. Epithet is derived from the Greek word epitheton, which means attributed.

A sobriquet is a nickname or familiar name that is bestowed upon someone. A sobriquet is usually bestowed in a friendly manner, it is an informal way of referring to a person. The word sobriquet comes from the Middle French word soubriquet which means a jest, literally meaning a chuck under the chin. The alternate spelling of soubriquet is also considered correct. The words epithet and sobriquet are somewhat interchangeable but epithets tend to be negative or formal and sobriquets tend to be positive and informal.


Every character in the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” has an epithet, or a “a distinctive adjective that sums up that character,” explained Bruce Louden, a professor of languages and linguistics at the University of Texas at El Paso who specializes in Homer’s epics. (The New York Times)

Mercer University police are investigating after a vandal scrawled a racial epithet on several doors inside a campus dorm early Wednesday morning. (The Macon Telegraph)

Finally, and least defensibly, is Will’s insistence that critics who use the term “climate change deniers” instead of the more decorous “climate change skeptics” are deploying an epithet “obviously coined to stigmatize skeptics as akin to Holocaust deniers.” (TIME Magazine)

Its success was instant and it was soon playing engagements all over the world, earning Armstrong the sobriquet Ambassador Satch. (The Telegraph)

The partnership of Virat Kohli and A.B. de Villiers in T20 cricket can rival the superpower of the famous comic heroes — Batman and Superman — feels Chris Gayle, the man who himself earned many a sobriquet for his marauding form in the game. (The Hindu)

During this period in the ‘60s, Mandela had earned the popular sobriquet, the “Scarlet Pimpernel”, for his ability to evade the South African authorities in his travels within the country, and by virtue of his ability to evade the authorities as he slipped beyond South Africa’s borders. (The Daily Maverick)