Pragmatics in language change and lexical creativity

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This essay examines language change and linguistic creativity as revealed by remodelling, especially as a source for euphemisms and euphemistic dysphemisms and as a function of verbal play. Within the scope of this essay, there are predominantly two ways in which novel terms and expressions are created leading to language change: formally through remodelling and semantically through figurative language. Consider some of the words for nakedness. There is the orthophemistic term nude, from Latin nudus, often used of photographic or painted representations of naked women and, much more rarely, of a naked man—hence the marked term male nude. Whether a nude is artistic or pornographic depends on the viewer belief. A colloquial Australian euphemism for being in the nude is in the nuddie. Other euphemisms include as nature intended, in one’s birthday suit, in the altogether, and in the buff (⇐buff[alo] leather, buff skin transferred to humans). Being naked is captured by the dysphemism bare-arsed and the more euphemistic butt / buck naked in which buck ⇐ butt. The orthophemistic term stark naked and the connected colloquial euphemism starkers also arose by replacing a final /t/ with a /k/: stark ⇐ start “tail, arse”. Nudists like to go about in the open air without clothes on and, being as nature intended when in natural surroundings, are euphemistically called naturists. Such expressions display folk-culture in a remarkable inventiveness of metaphor and figurative language sourced in the perceived characteristics of whatever is being talked about. For instance, terms for tabooed objects and events provide ready-made material for the dysphemistic language of curses, insults, epithets, and expletives. The essay shows that X-phemisms (orthophemisms and/or euphemisms and/or dysphemisms) are motivated by a speaker/writer’s want to be seen to take a certain stance by upgrading, downgrading, obfuscating, and deceiving; and they extensively manifest indulgence in verbal play. Although the discussion focuses on English, the categories illustrated occur across the world’s languages, and many of them are significant for the study of language change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number342
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • Dysphemism
  • Euphemism
  • Figurative language
  • Metaphor
  • Metonymy
  • Orthophemism

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