While the term 'left-wing" is relatively neutral, "leftist" has a derogatory air to it, or so it seems to me. Am I correct? Does anyone have any references for this? All I could find was this, which suggests that the derogatory nature associated with the word is more common in the US.

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    I can be neutral or derogatory. Depends on context and intonation. In general, ist-inf things can be used as a smear (implying unreflecting dogmatism).
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 22, 2017 at 14:17
  • It is interesting to note that its opposite, "rightist," is uncommon, so possibly right-wing speakers choose "leftist" when speaking derogatorily.. I agree with @DanBron that the -ist suffix can be associated with dogmatic behavior and language. However, it can also be completely neutral (dramatist, artist). I think what it comes down to more than anything is that politics is not neutral. Jan 22, 2017 at 14:22
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    @KatherineLockwood Well, there’s always fascist if you’re in search of a derogatory -ist word.
    – tchrist
    Jan 22, 2017 at 14:45
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    @RobertMc I'd like to, but the issue is both my personal standards and those of the site would require me to substantiate it (e.g. find notable examples of the word being used neutrally and used pejoratively), and that's more work than I currently have time for. But you (or anyone else) are more than welcome to post an answer based on my comment. No need to attribute me, even.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 22, 2017 at 15:19
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    But as with many another word (I see Yankee in the sidebar) the derogatory-ness depends entirely on who is using the word. If a conservative uses the word 'leftist', it's almost certainly derogatory; if a liberal does, it could even be complimentary.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 24, 2017 at 21:20

1 Answer 1


If I say you have left-wing leanings, I am saying you fit in that camp because your beliefs are progressive. If I say you are a leftist, that is an attack on you as a person, the whole you, so it is more personal.

If I think you have a sick idea, we can disagree and debate it. If I say you are sick, those are fighting words.

  • Actually, "-wing" by itself tends to be pejorative. (Hence "wingnut".)
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 26, 2017 at 22:03
  • Can you clarify? Are you implying that X-ist is generally derogatory for any X?
    – Mitch
    Jan 26, 2017 at 22:54
  • @Mitch — My answer was about left-wing and leftist alone, distinguishing between adjectives and name calling. A friend may not like it if I say her ideas amount to fascism, but I would not call her a fascist. If I saw some ideas as left-wing and activists as leftists, I would not insult them by pigeonholing them according to how I see their ideas. Small difference that means a lot to me. Jan 26, 2017 at 23:24

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