I just recently came across the word dispreferred in a linguistic document. I have never heard the word used before, rather I generally hear something like "preferred something else" in everyday conversation. Is dispreferred a linguistics/language specific term or does it have more widespread usage in non-technical conversations? As I type the word dispreferred, I see a red underline indicating that I have entered a misspelled word.

  • 1
    I've also never heard it before. My advice, if you can avoid using it, by all means do.
    – Mr Lister
    Dec 27, 2012 at 20:49
  • The simple answer seems to be no it isn't. It's not in OED (Oxford English Dictionary). Dec 27, 2012 at 20:59
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    Google Books shows that Dispreferred arose around 1975 and has been almost entirely a linguistics term except for a brief vogue in economics, sociology and public-policy studies in the 70s and 80s. Dec 27, 2012 at 21:36
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    I prefer dispreferred to unpreferred.
    – MikeM
    Dec 27, 2012 at 23:03
  • Why invent ugly new words when there is adequate vocabulary available? I would say "less favoured" ["less favored" if I were in the USA] or "not preferred" rather than "dispreferred". Not preferring is not the opposite of preferring, but rather the absence of preferring. Feb 26, 2018 at 0:02

3 Answers 3


It's not in my Merriam-Webster or dictionary.reference.com, and I've never heard of it.

LanguageLog has some citations for it, but the article seems to confirm, if anything, that it's linguists' jargon.


'Mainstream', No. 'Word', Yes.

It's more of a domain-specific term defined in linguistics, although it does seem to appear in general English writing in a few instances. [Of course some people will love (or hate) the heightened suspense or the "gambling thrill," more of which is possible in the multistage lottery, and will prefer (or dis- prefer) it to a simple lottery.]a

It also seems to appear in linguistics literature in its general English sense apart from reference by its DSL-definition. [If "preferred'V'dispreferred" refer not to tastes/desires of the participants but to the sequential practices and ... And how do these different practices for preferred and dispreferred responses help us understand an important aggregate] [b]

See definition and some discussion on disprefer on Wiktionary: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/disprefer


In the academic field of Conversation Analysis (CA) this is a specific term for describing a type of statement or turn in a conversation. If, as you describe, this is a document in the field of linguistics then dispreferred may be the only accurate word to use.

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