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Years ago, an Internet NNTP poster's signature read in part "a niggardly lover".

Of course, "niggardly" just means "stingy", so there was nothing literally offensive in his signature.

However, I believe he chose this phrasing (instead of "stingy lover" or "miserly lover") specifically to provoke and annoy people.

What word embodies this concept? Using an intentionally offensive-sounding phrase to express an otherwise inoffensive concept?

Would this be the opposite of bowdlerization?

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3 Answers 3

If it is indeed deliberate, OP's example is a form of asteism (genteel irony; a polite and ingenious manner of deriding another). Depending on one's preconceptions, it may be considered subversive, provocative, or couched language.

It's not dys-/mal-/cacophemism, because all of those imply that the actual words used are inherently offensive. I'm well aware that there have even been lawsuits in America arising from the word niggardly - but even where the complainants won their case (most didn't), no lawyers ever argued that the actual word was offensive.

It's almost the direct opposite of a minced oath, since the intention there is to avoid giving offense. So much so that one hears berk (slang: fool) used in polite society by people who may actually be giving offense without knowing what they are doing.

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It is an interesting approach to baiting people. Bowdlerization and other forms of censorship could be considered "opposites" to this. I tend to prefer the contrast with the idea of minced oaths:

A minced oath (also pseudo-profanity) is an expression based on a profanity or a taboo term that has been altered to reduce the objectionable characteristics. ... The most common methods of forming a minced oath are rhyme and alliteration.

Meanwhile it shares many similarities with eggcorn:

An eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context, such as "old-timers' disease" for "Alzheimer's disease". ... Eggcorns often involve replacing an unfamiliar, archaic, or obscure word with a more common or modern word

The user seems to be attempting to create a malicious eggcorn in the reader's mind, replacing an archaic term with a more modern (and offensive) one. Indeed, seeing as the original word was primarily negative, a racial slur could introduce a meaning "different from the original, but plausible in the same context."

There have been numerous public controversies over this particular word pair. (Controversies about the word "niggardly")

Ultimately, though, I think the word to describe this behavior best might just be "trolling."

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This would, I believe, come under "dysphemism":

In language, dysphemism (from the Greek dys δύς "mis-" and pheme φήμη "reputation"), malphemism (in Latin malus "bad"), and cacophemism (in Greek kakos κακός "bad") refer to the usage of an intentionally harsh word or expression instead of a polite one.

If this was written to make it intentionally offensive, it would have been a "cacophemism":

While "dysphemism" or "malphemism" may be either offensive or merely humorously deprecating, "cacophemism" is usually deliberately offensive

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