I was reading David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” — The chapter called “Authority and American Usage.“ I learned a new word: Dysphemism.
Apparently it’s a new word for my dictation software too, because when I said it to dictate this article, even if I enunciate very carefully, it came out “this feminism.”
A dysphemism (this time: “diss for mizzen”) is:
It occurs to me that much of the common discourse I read or hear these days, especially in politics, is full of dysphemisms (dismiss him‘s). Each side has their own. Consider “neo-conservative” as a substitute for just “conservative,” or “leftist” instead of “liberal.“ And don’t even get me started on “woke.” I haven’t done exhaustive research, but I’m pretty sure that the use of dysphemisms (this for Mrs.) is rampant, with each side straining to diabolically weaponized the English language against the other.
It happens in defense as well. We call those, much more commonly, euphemisms. Have you ever met anybody that is “pro abortion” rather than “pro choice?“ Or, similarly, “anti-choice” rather than “pro life?”
My sense that dysphemisms (this from isms) are probably stealthily prevalent in daily use made me wonder if there was actually a condition called dysphemia (a word that, judging by the red underline, my spell-checker doesn’t even recognize).
As it happens, there is such a word!
I guess I find it interesting and telling that a dysphemism (yes from -ism) is a linguistic technique that makes something intentionally ugly, and the word that seems like it should describe the act of using this technique describes a mental disorder that leads to a lack of control. Coincidence? I think not.