Printable Version
Pronunciation: dis-fê-mi-zêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A derogatory word used to replace a more pleasant word, such as 'funny farm' for 'mental hospital'. Antonym: euphemism.

Notes: We've already met a nice word used to replace a bad one; now we have the name of a bad word substituting for a good one. The adjective is dysphemistic and the adverb, dysphemistically

In Play: Euphemisms and dysphemisms are the shields and pikes of speech as we linguistically joust our way through life. Some dysphemisms occur unconsciously and quite frequently: snail mail for regular mail, egghead for scholar, referring to a father as the old man, calling someone overweight a pig or a cow. Of course, all profanity is strongly dysphemistic.

Word History: Today's Good Word was lent to English by Greek. It is made up of dys- "bad, hard, unfortunate" + pheme "speech, voice, utterance", derived from phanai "speak" + -ism. Phanai came from PIE bha- "to speak, tell, say", also the source of Latin fari "to speak" that underlies infan(t)s "not speaking". Greek dys- derives from the PIE word dus- "bad, ill, evil", source also of Sanskrit dus- and Old Persian duš- "ill", Russian dožd' "rain" (bad weather), and Polish deszcz "rain". Latin fari developed into fama "talk, rumor, tradition", source of English fame, and fabula "narration", source of English fable. Russian basnya "fable" and bayat' "say, talk" (poetic) descended from the same PIE bha-. (Today's Good Word comes to us courtesy of the semi-mysterious William, who has been in and out of the Agora for the past 15 years.)

Dr. Goodword,

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