1. the substitution of a harsh, disparaging, or unpleasant expression for a more neutral one.
  2. an expression so substituted, as “cancer stick” for “cigarette.”


  1. substitution of a derogatory or offensive word or phrase for an innocuous one
  2. the word or phrase so substituted

1884, “substitution of a vulgar or derogatory word or expression for a dignified or normal one,” from Greek dys- “bad, abnormal, difficult” (see dys-) + pheme “speaking,” from phanai “speak” (see fame (n.); Greek dysphemia meant “ill language, words of ill omen”). The opposite of euphemism. Rediscovered 1933 from French formation dysphémisme (1927, Carnoy).

The French psychologist Albert J. Carnoy gave an extensive definition in his study Le Science du Mot, which in translation runs: “Dysphemism is unpitying, brutal, mocking. It is also a reaction against pedantry, rigidity and pretentiousness, but also against nobility and dignity in language” (1927, xxii, 351). [Geoffrey L. Hughes, “An Encyclopedia of Swearing,” 2006]

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