Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Meatspace Odyssey

There was a time when Virtual Reality meant putting goggles and sensors on and running through a Tron-esque maze fleeing pterodactyls or walking through the floorplan of a proposed building. Today we have an entire Virtual World in Second Life, an online universe whose existence I only stumbled upon a few days ago. When a client mentioned that a very real world company has set up shop in Second Life, I pretended I knew what she was talking about then bounced to Wikipedia to look it up after the call was over.

didn't I blow your mind this time? didn't I?

There I learned that "residents" of Second Life refer to our traditional, corporeal world as "meatspace", a term that made me laugh and frown. That lead me to an even more interesting word, one that you may be familiar with but was new to me.

Meatspace is an example of a "Dysphemism", which is defined by The Columbia Guide to Standard American English as:

The process and the result of substituting an ugly or otherwise unpleasant locution for one more attractive in sound or meaning are both called dysphemism, of which the World War I sailors’ name for tapioca pudding, fisheye soup, is a graphic and printable example. Dysphemism is an antonym of euphemism.

That's mighty fine fish-eye soup Admiral.

So basically, you use a dysphemism when you want to make a neutral term sound awful or extreme. Instead of saying "I was thrilled when the Angels defeated the Yankees 18-9", I'd say "I was thrilled when the Angels annihilated the Yankees 18-9." That dude is dumb as a box of rocks... this coffin nail is really refreshing... etc etc.

Here's an entertaining read on the concept of the "Dysphemism Treadmill" from Wikipedia:

Similar to the concept of the euphemism treadmill, a complementary “dysphemism treadmill” exists, but is more rarely observed. In these cases, notions of profanity, obscenity and other words once called “offensive” are later described as “objectionable,” then “questionable,” and in some cases, they reach near or outright acceptability.

One modern example is the word “sucks.” “That sucks” began as American slang for “that is very unpleasant,” and is the shortened version of “that sucks cock/dick.” It developed over the late-20th century from being an extremely vulgar phrase to mainstream slang. (The origin of the intransitive usage, “sucks,” is disputed and may derive from more innocuous slang. See the archived discussions of The American Dialect Society. The same may be said of the use of “screw,” often used as slang for sexual intercourse (and a euphemism for “fuck”), in such usages as “to screw up” (to make a major mistake).)

Sometimes a term will go from being a euphemism to being a dysphemism and then go back to being a euphemism. “Queer” and “gay,” for example, both started as euphemisms for “homosexual,” and then got on the euphemism treadmill and became insults—but are now the preferred adjectives amongst the gay community themselves.

If anyone calls me a tub of lard again, I'll put my flipper in their ass.

I imagine that "Dysphemism Treadmill" is a great cocktail party subject. I can almost see a board game...

Anyway, next time you're considering using a played-out euphemism like "Kitty went to live on a farm", know that you can always go the opposite direction and say that "Kitty is worm food now."

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