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dysphemism (DIS-fuh-miz-em) noun

The substitution of a harsher, deprecating or offensive term in place of a relatively neutral term.

[From Greek dys- (bad) + -phemism (as in euphemism).]

"There are lots of epithets for people like this - Grammar Nazis, Usage Nerds, Syntax Snobs, the Language Police. The term I was raised with is SNOOT. The word might be slightly self-mocking, but those other terms are outright dysphemisms. A SNOOT can be defined as somebody who knows what dysphemism means and doesn't mind letting you know it."
David Foster Wallace, Tense Present: Democracy, English, And the Wars Over Usage, Harper's Magazine (New York), Apr 2001.

"In 1945, shortly after the final victory over Japan, newsreels provided evidence of another holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Holocaust (the dysphemism chosen by Jewish historians to replace the Nazis' ghastly euphemism, The Final Solution) and the Nuclear Holocaust the one in the past, the other in the future were to hang over the next half-century like a mushroom cloud."
Philip French, Hollywood and the Holocaust, The Guardian (London), Feb 13, 1994.

Dysphemism and its antonym, euphemism, are often two sides of the same coin. A guerrilla in neutral language might be called freedom-fighter by some while a terrorist by others. Novelist and story-writer Nathaniel Hawthorne summed it well when he wrote, "Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." Look for more words about words in AWAD this week.


One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul, and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. -Vincent van Gogh, painter (1853-1890)

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