Posted by: Jack Henry | August 22, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Dysphemism

Good morning, everyone.

You’ve heard of euphemisms—tactful words that are used as substitutes for words that could be considered harsh, offensive, or unpleasant (for example, let go instead of fire, correctional facility instead of prison, pass away instead of die). The word euphemism comes from the Greek eu- meaning good or well and pheme meaning speech, voice, or utterance. Euphemisms allow us to speak with sensitivity, but they are also used as doublespeak; we hear many euphemisms from politicians when they want to make something appear less offensive or more palatable.

Today, however, I really want to discuss euphemism’s antonym: dysphemism.

A dysphemism is an offensive or disparaging word or phrase that substitutes for a typically inoffensive word or phrase (for example, quack for doctor, egghead for genius, old man for father or husband, snail mail for postal mail—of course there are many worse dysphemisms, but let’s keep it clean). The word dysphemism comes from the Greek dys- meaning miss or none and pheme (defined above). Sometimes we use dysphemisms to tease or belittle others, but we all know where that kind of behavior leads (Mom was right; it usually ends in tears).

Growing up with two older brothers, I learned about dysphemisms double quick. My younger sister had to deal with both of my brothers and me. I’m a kinder person now, and I feel guilty about all the teasing she had to put up with. That egghead learned to give as good as she got, though.

I’m kidding! She’s not an egghead at all.

I’m kidding again, she really is very smart. See what I did there? I used a dysphemism to both compliment and insult her at the same time. You can thank my brothers for my cruel ingenuity.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

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