Cast your mind back to December of last year, when agathism—the belief that all things get better, but the course of getting there might not be easy—was voted the HH Word of 2017.
But if that’s agathism, then pejorism is probably it’s exact opposite. It popped up on the HH feed this week, defined quite simply as the belief that the world is getting worse.
Happily (or unhappily, as the case may be) this is not a modern phenomenon. As we mentioned on Twitter, the word pejorism was coined way back in 1878, when German-born philologist Max Müller gave the inaugural Hibbert Lecture, the first in an annual series of theological debates. As Müller explained, “Man has believed in pessimism, he has hardly ever believed in pejorism.”
Müller’s explanation raises an interesting question: what’s the difference between pessimism and pejorism? They both seem equally negative—but are they the same?
Etymologically, there’s a subtle difference. Pejorism comes from pejor, a Latin word essentially meaning “worse”; to pejorate, likewise, is to make something worse, or to cause it to worsen or deteriorate. Pessimism on the other hand comes from the Latin superlative pessimus, meaning “worst”; when it first appeared in the language in the late 1700s, it simply meant “the worst state possible”.
A pessimist, ultimately, is someone who looks to or assumes the worst of everything. A pejorist presumes the worst is yet to come.