Skip to main content Accessibility help

Metaphor in using and understanding euphemism and dysphemism

  • Kerry L. Pfaff (a1), Raymond W. Gibbs (a1) and Michael D. Johnson (a1)


Six experiments examined the role of metaphorical knowledge in people's use and understanding of euphemisms and offensive expressions. Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrated that familiar euphemisms and dysphemisms are viewed as more appropriate and are easier to comprehend when there is a conceptual match between them and the context. The data from Experiments 3 and 4 showed a similar pattern for novel euphemisms and offensive phrases. Experiments 5 and 6 ruled out the hypothesis that the previous results were due to semantic priming. The findings from these experiments indicate that people's metaphorical conceptualization of a certain topic can influence the processing time and appropriate use of euphemistic and dysphemistic expressions.


Corresponding author

Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr., Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064


Hide All
Allan, K., & Burridge, K. (1991). Euphemism and dysphemism: Language used as shield and weapon. New York: Oxford.
Bolinger, D. (1980). Language as a loaded weapon. New York: Longman.
Burchfield, R. (1985). An outline history of euphemisms in English. In Enright, D. J. (Ed.), Fair of speech: The uses of euphemism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cruse, D. (1986). Lexical semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gibbs, R. (1984). Literal meaning and psychological theory. Cognitive Science, 8, 275304.
Gibbs, R. (1989). Understanding literal meaning. Cognitive Science, 13, 243251.
Gibbs, R. (1992). What do idioms really mean? Journal of Memory and Language, 31, 485506.
Gibbs, R. (1994). The poetics of mind: Figurative thought, language, and understanding. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Glucksberg, S., Brown, M., & McGlone, M. (1993). Conceptual metaphors are not automatically accessed during idiom comprehension. Memory and Cognition, 21, 711719.
Griffin, J. (1985). Euphemisms in Greece and Rome. In Enright, D. J. (Ed.), Fair of speech: The uses of euphemism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Johnson, M. (1987). The body in the mind: The bodily basis of meaning, imagination, and reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Keppel, G. (1991). Design and analysis: A researcher's handbook (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Lakoff, G. (1987). Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors vie live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Munro, P. (1989). Slang U.: The official dictionary of college slang. New York: Crown
Nayak, N., & Gibbs, R. (1990). Conceptual knowledge in the interpretation of idioms. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 119, 315330.
Neaman, J. S., & Silver, C. G. (1983). Kind words: A thesaurus of euphemisms. New York: Academic.
Palmer, F. (1981). Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rawson, H. (1981). A dictionary of euphemisms and other doubletalk. New York: E. P. Dutton.
Rayner, K., & Pollatsek, A. (1989). The psychology of reading. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Sweetser, E. (1990). From etymology to pragmatics: Metaphorical and cultural aspects of semantic structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed