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linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to the Guide to Literary Terms, an epithet is "an adjective which expresses a quality or attribute considered characteristic of a person or thing. It is also an appellation or descriptive term which is common in historical titles such as 'Catherine the Great.' "

Some examples the guide gives are "rosy-fingered dawn," "swift-footed Achilles," and "all-seeing Jove."

Other examples of epithets are Richard the Lionheart, heart-felt thanks, blood-red sky.

Epithets can be used to praise or to criticize or even to smear. Ronald Reagan has been called "The Great Communicator," and Teddy Roosevelt was "Old Rough and Ready." But Bill Clinton was called "Slick Willy," and "Bushie" is a negative epithet used for anyone who supports George W. Bush. The most critical, and most offensive, are racial slurs.

You want to be careful about using epithets, as Lewis Carroll warned in a poem:

Such epithets, like pepper,
Give zest to what you write;
And, if you strew them sparely,
They whet the appetite:
But if you lay them on too thick,
You spoil the matter quite!

I hope this helps!

 

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An epithet can be described in three ways,

1. "An adjective which expresses a quality or attribute considered characteristic of a person or thing."

2. "It is also an appellation or descriptive term which is common in historical titles such as “Catherine the Great.”

3. The final meaning is to use a "word, phrase, or expression invectively as a term of abuse or contempt, to express hostility, etc."

You will need to look at the context the in order to determine which definition applies to the word or phrase you are studying.