I just found something:
“The origin of the word ‘capitalist’ is of much earlier vintage: in French, A. R. J. Turgot (1727-1781) used ‘capitaliste’ in his essay, ‘Reflection on the Formation and Distribution of Wealth’ (1769-1770), and WilliamGodwin used its English version, ‘capitalist’, in his Political Justice (1794).”
The first use of the term “capitalism” in English was in 1854 by William Makepeace Thackeray in his novel, The Newcomes, as a term for “system having capitalists”; “capitalist” being first used by the French economist Turgot — a free market supporter — in 1770. This was years before Marx and Hodskin. Turgot was a physiocrat and one unique things about them is that the physiocrats were opposed the the mercantalists and inflationists. They represented a large part of the Liberal movement in 18th century France.
This strongly suggests that the term “capitalist” leans closer to the definition “private ownership of the means of production” as suggested by many counterparts of the Left. Especially since he wrote about capital and was one of the followers of Richard Cantillon.
I think- considering that many leftists leave the role of capital out of many of their definitions- the burden becomes that much more for them to come up with a better term before saying it should be abandoned “because pejorative”, especially since the pejorative is due to them.