[ puh-rahy-uh ]
/ pəˈraɪ ə /
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See synonyms for: pariah / pariahs on Thesaurus.com

an outcast.
any person or animal that is generally despised or avoided.
Pariah . a member of a low caste in southern India and Myanmar (Burma).


What Is The Origin Of The Word "Pariah"?

There's nothing worse than being a social pariah—in other words, "an outcast," someone banished to the fringes of the cafeteria with no one to sit with. But, did this word always have a negative meaning?

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Origin of pariah

First recorded in 1605–15; from Tamil paṟaiyar, plural of paṟaiyan literally, “drummer” (from a hereditary duty of the caste), derivative of paṟai “festival drum”


pa·ri·ah·dom, nounpa·ri·ah·ism, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does pariah mean?

A pariah is an outcast or someone who’s despised and avoided.

Pariah is often used to refer to a person who is widely shunned for some offense they have committed. It is often used in the phrase social pariah and in the context of politics.

Example: Although the defendant was found not guilty, he was still treated like a pariah in his hometown, with formerly close friends now refusing to talk to him.

Where does pariah come from?

The first records of pariah in English come from the early 1600s. It comes from paṟaiyan, a word that means “drummer” in Tamil (one of the many Indian languages spoken across the country). The Paraiyans were members of a group considered very low in the Indian caste system. They served as ceremonial drummers and later as laborers. Eventually, pariah started to be used in English more generally to refer to the members of any caste offensively labeled untouchables. By the 1800s, it had come to refer to any person shunned by society—an “outcast.”

Today, a pariah is someone who is treated as an outcast, especially after having been formerly in a position of favor—they have been cast out of their group. Usually this is because they have done something viewed as unacceptable, such as committing a crime, but this is not always the case. Some people are unfairly treated as pariahs because other people are uncomfortable around them for some reason, such as an illness. Still, pariahs are always the subject of avoidance. A social pariah is someone who is now avoided by everyone, especially their peers, perhaps because of a betrayal or an unpopular opinion or belief. In politics, a politician might be labeled as a pariah if their former allies distance themselves from them to avoid association with some scandal.

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What are some other forms related to pariah?

  • pariahdom (noun)
  • pariahism (noun)

What are some synonyms for pariah?

What are some words that share a root or word element with pariah

What are some words that often get used in discussing pariah?

How is pariah used in real life?

Pariah is often used to refer to someone who was once popular and is now avoided, perhaps even despised.



Try using pariah!

True or False?

A pariah has always done something to deserve such a status.

How to use pariah in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for pariah

/ (pəˈraɪə, ˈpærɪə) /

a social outcast
(formerly) a member of a low caste in South India

Word Origin for pariah

C17: from Tamil paraiyan drummer, from parai drum; so called because members of the caste were the drummers at festivals
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for pariah

[ (puh-reye-uh) ]

An outcast; a member of a low caste or class.

notes for pariah

The word originally stems from the caste system of India, which put pariahs in a very low place in society. In the United States, it refers to those of low social class or social status.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.