September 4th, 2006

Warning: Dysphemisms Ahead

I am a huge fan of the euphemism. I have, in fact, created quite the little roundabout lexicon to cover topics I would rather not discuss in the first place—or to avoid words that injure my ears with their sloppiness. (No prude I—there are just certain expletives I’d rather not use. Why start a word with that sloppy “sh,” which almost inevitably leads to inadvertent spitting when said in anger? Other words, though considered far more horrifying by society, have a much cleaner, sharper, to-the-pointer sound that I find very satisfying when I’m irritated.)


That being said, I must admit that I am a huge fan of the euphemism when I’m the one saying it. I think other people should just get to the point and just say what they want to say. (I'm not a prude; I also never claimed to be fair.)


While pondering my euphemistic double-standard, I got to thinking about the opposite of such roundabout, inoffensive rephrasing. What do you call the dark side of the euphemism?


A Google search led me to The Swot’s Corner.


Here I learned that there is a term for words that, when paired together, could be mistaken for a different phrase (“some mothers” and “some others,” for instance. Or, more entertainingly, “Toyota” and “toy Yoda.” I can’t take credit for that one—it was on the website). They are oronyms.


I learned that the plural of “oxymoron” is “oxymora,” while the plural of “virus” is not “virii,” as some people might have you believe, but “viruses.”


This fab page has whole entries on the use of “they” as a general singular pronoun (which it clearly is not, being a plural pronoun); the differences between “lay” and “lie”; and the correct use of apostrophes (be still, my geeky heart). It also offers a segment entitled “The Eskimo Snow Vocabulary Debate: Fallacies and Confusions.”


An extract quoted from the “Pop vs. Soda page” yielded this gem:


“Using the new technologies of the Internet and the World Wide Web, I and my colleagues at the California Institute of Technology and Lewis & Clark College are undertaking a bold new research into this fascinating area [of regional terms for carbonated beverages].

“CONCLUSION: People who say 'Pop' are much, much cooler.”


(I won’t point out that the use of “I and my colleagues” would have been correcter as “my colleagues and I.” I also won’t admit that I always say “soda,” preferring to reserve the word “pop” for my decidedly non-euphemistic preferred term for “dying.”)


And yes, Virginia, there is a word for the opposite of a euphemism. An offensive phrase substituted for a neutral one, it is called a “dysphemism,” and is exemplified by a sentence such as, “Not long after he popped off, we were told he wanted to be planted next to his wife.”


It is pages like these that keep my love for the internet alive. (And that's not a euphemism. It's an actual barefaced fact.)