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Examples of cacophemisms in English


A word or expression that is generally perceived as harsh, impolite, or offensive. Similar to dysphemism. Contrast with euphemism. Adjective: cacophemistic.


From the Greek, "bad" plus "speech"

Examples and Observations:

  • "When we use cacophemisms, . . . we do not necessarily speak ill of anything. Cacophemistic language is a rough and raw, blunt and vulgar way of saying anything--good, evil, or neutral--of a thing. Not all of it is obscene by any means; witness 'grub' and 'duds' for example. Some is extremely vulgar, but not quite obscene (that is, not quite categorically tabooed in polite society), likely to offend but not to shock, like 'puke,' 'guts,' 'fart,' 'stink,' 'belly,' 'croak,' and 'burp.' A genuinely obscene word, in virtue of the taboo its utterance violates, is as cacophemistic as a word can be."
    (Joel Feinberg, Offense to Others. Oxford Univ. Press, 1988)

  • "A cruel or offensive dysphemism is a cacophemism (from Greek kakos bad), such as using 'it' for a person: Is it coming again tonight?"
    (Tom McArthur, The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford Univ. Press, 1992)

  • "Euphemism and cacophemism play a central role in rationalization. When we call someone a 'terrorist,' we may be using a cacophemism--making an activity seem worse than it actually is. When we call the same person a 'freedom fighter,' we may be using a euphemism--making the activity sound better than it really is. Either way, by using these words, we set ourselves up for rationalizing the harming of others."
    (Ronald A. Howard and Clinton D. Korver, Ethics for the Real World. Harvard Business Press, 2008)
Pronunciation: ka-KOF-eh-miz-em
Also Known As: dysphemism, bad mouthing
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