Organon F

Volume 28, August 2021, Issue 3, Pages 626–649

ISSN 2585-7150 (online) ISSN 1335-0668 (print)

Research Article | Special issue on Value in Language

The Derogatory Force and the Offensiveness of Slurs

Chang Liu


Slurs are both derogatory and offensive, and they are said to exhibit “derogatory force” and “offensiveness.” Almost all theories of slurs, except the truth-conditional content theory and the invocational content theory, conflate these two features and use “derogatory force” and “offensiveness” interchangeably. This paper defends and explains the distinction between slurs’ derogatory force and offensiveness by fulfilling three goals. First, it distinguishes between slurs’ being derogatory and their being offensive with four arguments. For instance, ‘Monday’, a slur in the Bostonian argot, is used to secretly derogate African Americans without causing offense. Second, this paper points out that many theories of slurs run into problems because they conflate derogatory force with offensiveness. For example, the prohibition theory’s account of offensiveness in terms of prohibitions struggles to explain why ‘Monday’ is derogatory when it is not a prohibited word in English. Third, this paper offers a new explanation of this distinction from the perspective of a speech act theory of slurs; derogatory force is different from offensiveness because they arise from two different kinds of speech acts that slurs are used to perform, i.e., the illocutionary act of derogation and the perlocutionary act of offending. This new explanation avoids the problems faced by other theories.


Derogation; expressives; offense; pejoratives; slurs; speech acts.

Author(s) and affiliation(s)


Chang Liu


Peking University


Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Peking University, Beijing, China


About this article


13 November 2020


5 June 2021

Published online

30 August 2021


Institute of Philosophy of the Slovak Academy of Sciences

Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Cite as


Liu, C. (2021). The Derogatory Force and the Offensiveness of Slurs. Organon F28(3), 626–649.


Liu, Chang. 2021. "The Derogatory Force and the Offensiveness of Slurs." Organon F 28 (3): 626–649.


Liu, C. (2021). The Derogatory Force and the Offensiveness of Slurs. Organon F, 28(3), pp. 626–649.

Copyright information

© Chang Liu

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