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The purpose of a dysphemism is essentially to characterize a given object in a negative way. For example, a person who distrusts psychiatry may call a psychiatrist a "shrink"; and a racist person may use slurs when referring to people from minority backgrounds. In a parallel way to how a euphemism is meant to convey a positive connotation, the dysphemism is meant to convey a negative connotation.

Introduction to dysphemism

Dysphemism is a literary device and an adjective which uses the substitution or an offensive, disagreeable, or disparaging expression in the place of an inoffensive or agreeable expression. Dysphemism is the opposite of a euphemism, and is derived from the Greek dys meaning “miss or none” and pheme meaning reputation or speech. Dysphemism is the intentional use of negative expression in writing where a positive expression would usually be used; an insult, essentially. In speech, discourse, or dialogue dysphemisms are used to humiliate or degrade a person or character within the work itself. If you buy a research paper on the subject, you will learn first known use of dysphemism was in 1884.

Dysphemism types

There are currently nine recognized types of dysphemism: synecdoche, dysphemistic epithets, euphemistic dysphemism, dysphemistic euphemism, “-ist” dysphemism, homosexual dysphemism, name dysphemism, non-verbal dysphemism, and cross-cultural dysphemism. (Please keep in mind that the following are only example of offensive terminology used in dysphemistic writing, and are not meant to single out or offend any readers. Dysphemism by its nature is meant to be offensive.)

Example 1: He is an insufferable puffin.

This example uses a negative synecdoche to describe something as a whole; in this case an unpleasant man.

Example 2: That woman is a boa constrictor.

This example uses a dysphemistic epithet to imply that the woman is an animal and not a human being.

Example 3: He is a teddy bear.

Here, a euphemistic dysphemism makes an insult seem like a compliment by avoiding harsh words.

Example 4: You are a toad, but I love you anyway.

This example is a dyphemistic euphemism, a mockery used between close friends or family which holds no animosity or anger; it is more a term of endearment.

Examples of “-ist,” homosexual, name, non-verbal, and cross-cultural dysphemisms can be found throughout literature, and may be used to disparage a character in a written work or to create dissention and conflict for a character to overcome. As examples of these dysphemisms may become extremely offensive to readers, a few examples are provided below, and further examples can be found on various websites by searching the term “dysphemism.”

Additional examples of dysphemism

Many modern writers are particularly adept as using dysphemism, which is just as common in writing today as euphemism is James Joyce. James Joyce in particular used dysphemism repeatedly throughout his works, for instance in the following excerpt from The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.

-Sons of bitches! cried Mr. Daedalus. When he was down they turned on him to betray him and rend him like rats in a sewer. Low-lived dogs! And they look it! By Christ, they look it! They behaved rightly, cried Dante. They obeyed their bishops and their priests. Honour to them!

Dysphemism is literary technique that authors may use to minimize or humiliate characters whom he or she disapproves of or condemns. A dysphemism is directed toward the audience or reader of a work, similar to an aside or stage whisper in a play or film. The character may use dysphemism to express anger or dissatisfaction with societal norms or a particular person or social group. Dysphemisms can be used in colloquial expressions, literary texts, political speeches, and can be the result of hatred, racism, classism, or fear.

Euphemistic dysphemism may entail using a substituted swear word for a more offensive swear word, as people often do when around children. Ethnic slurs are dysphemisms which are directed at a particular ethnicity or ethnic stereotype, and are often meant to be hurtful. Dysphemisms may be aimed at a certain gender, religious preference, political preference, or personal trait or ability level, as well.

Name dysphemism is using the most familiar version of a person’s name instead of the proper or appropriate title which should be used in a formal situation. The social context indicates that the title should be used, but instead the speaker uses a first name or nickname familiarly, which may be offensive to the person in question. An example of this is demonstrated in the recent film The Interview. Throughout the film, the main character portrayed by James Franco refers to respected North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in an overly familiar way.

Our essay service writers can also guide you through the use of dysphemisms.

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