What Is Dysphemism?

Dysphemism (etymologically from Greek, literally “bad language”), is a rhetorical device by which we introduce emotional connotationOpens in new window into our expressions by means of using a negative or offensive term to describe something or someone, out of a provocative intent.

Differentiation from Euphemism — Dysphemism, also referred to as cacophemism, is a reverse case of EuphemismOpens in new window and differs from the euphemism, in that; it uses derogatory words to make things appear worse than they are; while the euphemism uses mild or light languages to make things appear welcomed and pleasant than their state of being.

Dysphemism, as we have observed from the definition above, is a bad-ism, a word with negative connotations.

    For example,
  • a voluntary association of people becomes “a clan;” freedom fighters, become “insurgents;” an arrested person becomes “a perp” or “a person of interest”.

This device is famously used in diverse fields, particularly, in the political terrain, where a homicide may be referred to as “assassination” (with its negative connotations). Another suitable example of dysphemism in this context, is the famous notion of “socialist,” used to describe government programs that people considered detrimental to state of the nation.

Examples of Dysphemism

Below are dysphemistic connotation used to replace otherwise terms.

  • Snail mail for postal mail
  • Cancer stick in reference to a cigarette
  • Egghead for genius
  • Worm food used in reference to a dead body
  • Pig for policeman
  • Bullshit for lies
  • Illegal aggression for military action
  • Fag for homosexual man
  • Manhole covers for sanitary napkins
Important Hint! 

Dysphemism is heavily deployed by literary authors (speakers or writers) whom by means of this device, pour out offensive words on characters, just so, to humiliate, and degrade them their personality. The provocative elements of dysphemism may be emotional distress, contempt, bitterness, anger towards someone, group of people, or a social phenomenon.

Further Readings:
Wikipedia | DysphemismOpens in new window
The Ten Commandments of Propaganda | By Brian Anse Patrick: Use of Dysphemisms and Euphemisms in PersonalizationOpens in new window