Definition of leper in US English:



  • 1A person suffering from leprosy.

    • ‘Deeply inspired, Baker promptly came back to India as an architect and began to build treatment centers for lepers.’
    • ‘Stories about him include the usual details of lepers and sores and obviously he was nervous about women, thinking they needed to be kept separate even after death.’
    • ‘There, Sethi was helping patients wobble down the corridor on their crutches, and I was teaching lepers to make handicrafts.’
    • ‘Doctors among the lepers work with scant supplies, forgotten by the economically surging First World.’
    • ‘The tiny Chapel of St Mary Magdalen was established for lepers and blind priests in the early 12 th century by Thurstan, the Archbishop of York who founded Fountains Abbey.’
    • ‘And then, in their free time, they cure lepers or build houses for entire villages in South America.’
    • ‘I went to Kalaupapa in Molokai and entertained lepers years ago.’
    • ‘As Minister of Health he reorganized care for the mentally ill and for lepers, and in 1926 he became Minister of Internal Affairs.’
    • ‘The group has already taken six lepers who could not be accommodated at Lukupa Leprosarium to Kawama Transit Centre.’
    • ‘Risking his life, Ernesto, who is asthmatic, swims across the river to declare his solidarity with the lepers.’
    • ‘It provided for blind priests, lepers and other poor people in need of care.’
    • ‘However, years spent among the farmers, fishermen, lepers and slum dwellers of more than 20 different countries rid Stackhouse of these easy assumptions.’
    • ‘During those years she has raised thousands of pounds for the lepers and handicapped children who find themselves ostracised from Indian society.’
    • ‘When they finally come to the leper colony, where the lepers live in a shantytown on one side of the Amazon while the staff lives in relative luxury on the other that Ernesto comes to a decision about which side of the river he needs to be on.’
    • ‘In the early 1930s, the lepers and mentally ill were removed from Robben Island and all the buildings burnt down.’
    • ‘The saint and the leper embrace and the leper is miraculously healed, but the real miracle is the love that makes healing and transformation possible.’
    • ‘He turned his back on his privileged background to care for lepers in Africa - only to die on a dusty roadside, cut down in a hail of bullets by guerrillas wielding AK47 assault rifles.’
    • ‘Every afternoon, the lepers would gather at the fence to mock the lunatics as they were let out for their exercise, performing their strange dances and shouting at unseen persecutors.’
    • ‘In Bwa culture certain socially marginal personages, such as foreigners, dwarfs, or lepers, are perceived to facilitate contact with the spirit world.’
    • ‘The project will involve training and building opportunities for the children of lepers who are often ostracised for a disease they do not have.’
    1. 1.1 A person who is avoided or rejected by others for moral or social reasons.
      ‘the story made her out to be a social leper’
      • ‘Smokers seem to be the lepers of modern society.’
      • ‘Can I find it within myself to approach this person as just another human being and not a pariah, a leper, an oddity in the sideshow of my life that gives me the willies when I think too hard about the situation?’
      • ‘Principals saw the girls as bad schoolyard influences and priests shunned them as moral lepers.’
      • ‘Smoking from the age of 16 means that I have spent a fortune over 24 years to smell like an ashtray, damage my health and feel like a social leper.’
      • ‘For the eleven years that Annalise had lived in Lawrenceville she had always been considered a social leper.’
      • ‘He must be henceforth treated like a moral leper to satisfy our conviction that endless ongoing punishment without mercy is ours to mete out to him forever.’
      • ‘All societies, cultures and organizations have a few of this kind of moral leper who believe that they are more important than the ethic that made them what they are.’
      • ‘What they're saying is that if you take the sort of moral, religious approach, then those who can't abstain or can't be faithful, who get infected, are going to be considered social lepers and cast out and so forth.’
      • ‘The aim will be to make you a leper, an untouchable.’
      • ‘I am no longer a social leper - My friends and family shall no longer wonder if I'm a closet homosexual.’
      • ‘Therefore, my social interaction had severely declined, leaving me the equivalent to a social leper.’
      • ‘I am afraid that if I do speak out, against all that he has done, I will become a social leper.’
      • ‘She was pretty much a social leper anyway, and she liked it that way.’
      • ‘Smokers are being treated like lepers, the new outcasts in a health police state gone out of control.’
      • ‘By Tuesday morning, she was a social leper.’
      • ‘Winner of the coveted Palme d' Or for his 1989 debut Sex, Lies and Videotape, he subsequently proceeded to reinvent himself as a Hollywood leper with a string of critical and commercial failures.’
      • ‘As the smoker has become a pariah, sufferers from lung cancer have become the lepers of the twenty-first century.’
      • ‘He is a kind of leper in the Japanese medical world, shunned by his peers and out of favor with his bosses.’
      • ‘Lawrence could conceivably declare that American lesbians and gay men are no longer moral lepers but ordinary citizens.’
      • ‘They already pay a significantly higher proportion of tax to non-smokers (one of the highest duty rates in the world), and they are seen as social lepers to many.’
      outcast, social outcast, pariah, untouchable, undesirable, exile, reject, non-person, unperson, persona non grata
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Since the mid 20th century the word leper has increasingly been avoided because of the negative connotations of the sense ‘person who is avoided or rejected by others’. Today it is preferable to use expressions such as person with leprosy or person with Hansen's disease (another name for leprosy)


Late Middle English: probably from an attributive use of leper ‘leprosy’, from Old French lepre, via Latin from Greek lepra, feminine of lepros ‘scaly’, from lepos, lepis ‘scale’.