What does "the infelicities of language" mean ? Infelicities means "inappropriate and unpleasing manner or style". So, is the phrase "infelicities of language" a euphemism for curse words ? Or is the phrase a euphemism for vulgar language ? Or does the phrase "the infelicities of language" mean something other than what I have suggested ?

  • 1
    I think you've got the right idea already.
    – NVZ
    May 14, 2016 at 17:56
  • 2
    A quick Google shows that the phrase has been used in a variety of contexts with a variety of meanings. If you provide a specific context we can help you. May 14, 2016 at 18:06
  • This has been addressed (as regards the stricter definition) on LinguisticsSE (see the most upvoted answers, and John Lawler's comment). May 14, 2016 at 19:05
  • As Mitch says, it could be any of several things, depending on context. To his list I'd add the difficulty of saying what you mean in many cases.
    – Hot Licks
    May 14, 2016 at 21:13
  • A student this past term, writing about the history of dating, noted that after one of the World Wars "a lot of males were rare." I commented, "You can say that there were not a lot of males, or that males were rare, but saying a lot of males were rare suggests that people were undercooking them. I gave up marking such careless errors and infelicities here because there were just too darned many of them." May 14, 2016 at 21:30

2 Answers 2


It can mean many things depending on context:

  • awkward diction or phrasing, using words from different registers in the same sentence

  • questionable grammar/semantics (not outright solecisms)

  • blunt or jarring style (eg false parallelism or ambiguity from removing parallelism)

I wouldn't call vulgarities themselves infelicitous unless used in the middle of a poetic or formal discourse.


I believe it is used to refer to imprecise language, not adequately or clearly expressing a thought or idea, either due to the nature of language in general, or to ineptitude on the part of the speaker. Here are some examples:

Imperfect, too, in fairness - Rowling calibrated her prose carefully in "The Casual Vacancy", as if to show she could do it, but her old infelicities of language have returned. -- The lady has a past, quoted in thefreedictionary.com

Infelicities of language, whether in the spoken or written word, were identified and assailed by a great many people who seemed to believe that the English language itself was in a period of decline -- Language Topics: Essays in honour of Michael Halliday, Volume 2

Assuming that Dr. Hodge refers to what the general assembly meant, and not to any mere infelicities of language... -- The Presbyterian Review, Volume 3

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