Certain nouns can often be used as noun adjuncts in place of a corresponding adjective, with no change in literal meaning, where:

  • The noun is not pejorative when used nominatively by itself.
  • Nor is the corresponding adjective pejorative.
  • But the noun used attributively is pejorative.

Is this a common pattern in English (besides the 2 examples below), and if so, what's the reason behind it? Also, is the phenomenon specific to proper nouns?


Here are some examples of such usages that should be typical according to what I'm claiming:


Generally not pejorative when used nominatively (though that may depend on the company you keep...):

Who is a Jew?

Corresponding adjective is not pejorative:

The Haggadah (Hebrew: הַגָּדָה‎, "telling") is a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder.

But an anti-Semitic slur when used attributively:

I shoulda known they'd stick me in a room with a Jew cop.

Democrat (the US political party)

Not pejorative, used nominatively:

President Barack Obama is a Democrat.

Not pejorative, corresponding adjective:

The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States[.]

Pejorative, used attributively:

Democrat Party


  • 3
    I wonder about the premise. Would your examples be any less pejorative if they were ‘I shoulda known they'd stick me in a room with a Jewish cop’ and ‘Democratic politicians' lust for tax money outweighs their supposed commitment to social justice’? Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 6:10
  • 2
    I think even if you just said, "I shoulda known they'd stick me in a room with a cop." The sentence still takes on a pejorative tone. So I don't think it's the adjective that does it.
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 7:10
  • 3
    @Jim: I meant the examples as illustrating that people are likely to pick "Jew" over "Jewish" etc. when they mean it pejoratively, not that "Jew" is the only thing pejorative about the sentence. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 7:15
  • 1
    I tend to chalk that up to the observation that people who speak pejoratively about others tend not to be well-educated to start with or lapse into colloquial speech patterns when making these kinds of statements.
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 7:19
  • 2
    @Jim: The Wikipedia article has many educated people using it in prepared speeches and party platforms. They're consciously choosing to use "Democrat". Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 7:25

3 Answers 3


I feel the "reason" behind it is simply that to use a noun adjunct is to equate both nouns, and therefore emphasising the former adjective to the same semantic level as the noun itself. Using an adjective and a noun is normal, and the noun is nominal; and the adjective normally modifies the noun. But a noun adjunct equates the two together, so that the so-called "Jew Cop" is both a cop and a Jew. But one could imagine a situation where surprise would account for the same use.

One probably finds these constructions more common in impassioned speech, both negative and positive, as Mechanical Snail mentioned. Therefore I disagree with your premise that this construction implies a pejorative sense, but it is, rather, an emphatic sense.

  • 2
    Re: "But one could imagine a situation where surprise would account for the same use": I challenge you to read through the Google Books hits for "Jew cop" and retain that view. Your hypothetical explanation of what "Jew cop" should mean and how it could be used don't really jibe with the reality of how it is used, IMHO.
    – ruakh
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 16:02
  • I agree with what you have said, however, I did only say that it could be used in that way, not that it is used in that way. The question was using these specific examples to ask a broader question of noun adjuncts presuming a pejorative use, which I disagree with as a general rule.
    – Ghostpsalm
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 0:01
  • 1
    Well, but the question was, "Is this a common pattern in English (besides the 2 examples below), and if so, what's the reason behind it?" So if you don't think it's a general rule, then your answer should probably start with "No, it's not a common pattern" rather than "I feel the 'reason' behind [this common pattern] is [...]". (FWIW, I agree with you that it's not a general rule. I think the OP is absolutely correct about "Jew" and "Democrat", but they seem to be individual exceptions rather than exemplars of a widespread pattern.)
    – ruakh
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 15:24

I can think of at least one example of the pejorative noun modifier: A "female driver" is simply a member of a demographic group, with no good or bad connotation. A "woman driver," however, is almost certainly using the rear-view mirror to put on her lipstick.


Hmm, interesting theory, but you have only two examples, and I think the "Democrat" one is weak.

When an ordinary noun is used as the name for a specific group, it's not clear that the proper adjective is the same as the adjective form used when using the word in its general sense.

For example, the normal adjective form of "friend" is "friendly". Quakers officially call themselves the "Society of Friends". But no one calls their churches "Friendly churches"; we call them "Friends churches". (I mean in the sense of using the word "Friendly" to identify them as Quakers, not that their members are unfriendly!)

Or, the normal adjective form of "cross" is "crossed", as in, "He drew a cross in the box labeled 'married'", "The 'married' box was crossed." But if you get a package from the Red Cross, you call it a "Red Cross package", not "a Red Crossed package".

(In English we often use the same word as both noun and adjective, so it's tough to come up with many examples.)

I've heard politicians who are Democrats referred to as both "Democrat politicians" and as "Democratic politicians". Is the first pejorative and the second not? I never really thought about it much. Do they ever call themselves "Democrat politicians", or is that only a term used for them by Republicans?

  • 2
    Well, there is an entire Wikipedia article on the pejorative use of "Democrat Party". Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 20:08
  • 1
    I don't think there is a simple rule either. Quakers and the Society of Friends is a special usage of the word "friend" (or maybe "Friend"). To be democratic is perceived as positive trait by all. I doubt any Republican would want to be described as "not democratic", given that the U.S.A. is (nominally) a democracy. I think of the two political parties as the Democrats and the Republicans, with both endorsing democracy and a democratic political system. Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 2:44
  • 1
    @FeralOink. The USA is a liberal democratic republic, which makes the names of its political parties frankly weird. But then, a lot about the USA is weird, not least the fact that the two main parties are rather right wing, and scarily off the charts right wing respectively.
    – TRiG
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 21:45
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    @TRiG Well, cool! If I ever start a political party, I'll have to call it "the Troublemaker Party". Well, maybe I'm too late. "Tea Party", after all, does originally refer to a rather raucus political protest. (Side note: I never knew this before, but I just read that the early American revolutionaries had mixed feelings about the Boston Tea Party. Some saw it as a legitimate political protest, but others saw it as mob violence.)
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 20:37
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    @FeralOink RE "Republican party was the equivalent of modern Democrats" etc: That's just something Democrats like to say so they can take credit for all the good things Republicans have done. :-)
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 14:34

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