Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Word of the Day: Dysphemism

Today, I discovered the word "dysphemism." To be more precise, I thought I coined the term only to discover that the word already existed. Sad for me, although a good sign at my ability to properly match up Greek roots.

In any event, a dysphemism is the opposite of a euphemism -- it replaces a positive or neutral term for a person, concept or activity with one that is negative -- for example, calling a mental hospital a "loony bin" or referring to welfare recipients as "strapping young bucks." I'm intrigued by it because dysphemisms often hold the potential to both conjure up an explicitly negative picture of a given group while allowing the person to claim plausible deniability that this was their intent. For example, when people talk about "young thugs" they are often using a dysphemism for young Black men. Certainly, they are trading on that image which inevitably is conjured up when they make the reference. Yet call them out on it, and they'll immediately cry foul -- who said young Black men? I certainly didn't. Are you saying all thugs are Black people? Who's the real racist now? A similar move gets made with respect to "Zionist" -- its often a dysphemism for "Jew" that also allows the speaker to disclaim that they're at all talking about Jews.

In any event, yes, there is a word for this. The more you know!

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