Antiphrasis

An Introduction to Antiphrasis

Antiphrasis (derives from Greek word ‘antiphrazein’ meaning “to express by negation”), is a kind of EuphemismOpens in new window which consists in the use of a word in an opposite sense to the proper meaning.

The trope was commonly used by the HeathensOpens in new window under the influence of superstition; in attempt to avoid the shocking idea of blasphemyOpens in new window in sacred writings and likewise to avoid sacrilegious offence against the notion of public decency. Thus, a harsh word was often substituted for a pleasant one.

Notable Examples of Antiphrasis
  • “Are you still going to maintain your integrity?
    Bless God and die.”
    — Job 2:9.
  • (Here, the word “curse” is substituted for the opposite “bless” which is considered pleasant.)
    1 Kings 21:13 presents a similar case, where Naboth did curse God and the king; but the Heathens rephrased the phrase in its opposite as:
  • “Naboth bless God and the King.”
Further Readings:
Silver Rhetoricae: AntiphrasisOpens in new window
Philipe Sarchi | An Essay on Hebrew Poetry, Ancient and Modern Antiphrasis (Pg. 49)Opens in new window
Wikipedia | AntiphrasisOpens in new window