Denotation, Connotation, Euphemism and Dysphemism for Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test Study Guide
Denotation and Connotation
Even words with similar dictionary definitions (denotations) can have different suggested meanings (connotations). Consider the different implied meanings of the following word pairs:
Although they are nearly synonyms, these word pairs suggest varying degrees and have subtle differences in their effect. The word slim suggests fitness and grace. Thin is more neutral, or possibly negative, implying someone may be too skinny to be healthy. Perilous suggests a greater threat of harm than the term dangerous: It has a more ominous connotation and implies a more life-threatening situation. The subtle difference between rich and wealthy is, again, one of degree: rich implies having more than enough to fulfill normal needs; wealthy suggests an established and elevated societal class.
Writers also reveal their attitude toward a subject through the use of euphemism or dysphemism. Here is a quick definition of the terms:
Euphemism and Dysphemism
- euphemism—a neutral or positive expression used in place of a negative one
- dysphemism—a negative expression substituted for a neutral or positive one
A euphemism is the substitution of an agreeable description of something that might be unpleasant. In contrast, a dysphemism is an offensive, disagreeable, or disparaging expression that describes something neutral or agreeable.
For example, a student who fails a test might use a euphemistic statement when reporting the grade to her parents:
"I didn't do very well on the test."
The student might feel more comfortable using a dysphemism when talking to her classmates:
"I bombed on that test. I tanked!"
Another example might be the sentence "I've been fired." A euphemism for this statement is "I've been let go," whereas a dysphemism for the statement is "I've been axed."
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