Is there a term for using a word that's often a euphemism to mean exactly what the word means?

For example, in Terry Pratchett's Discworld, what would the act of using the word "seamstress" to refer to someone who actually mends clothes, rather than someone who is a prostitute?

  • 4
    No, because it would no longer be a euphemism. What a grim question :) – user9682 Sep 15 '11 at 0:04
  • Or "mistress" to mean the female equivalent of "master", not a man's lover – Thursagen Sep 15 '11 at 1:04
  • It's a good question. The use of a common euphemism as literal text creates humor because of the juxtaposition of what the phrase literally means and how it is usually used. I'm not sure what the term is for it, though. Is it just word play? – Jeremy Sep 15 '11 at 2:20

Perhaps literalism? Although it's perhaps most frequently used in religious contexts (e.g., interpretation of sacred texts), it seems to apply here:

The disposition or tendency to accept a text, statement, etc., literally; the result of this, the interpretation of words in their literal sense. Occas. also: an instance of this.


Literal translation; this as a principle; (also) a peculiarity of expression due to this.

(both from the OED).

I think the second use applies particularly in this case: words that might typically register as euphemisms but are intended literally could be considered a "peculiarity of expression."

  • Second def. certainly applies. Perfect. – Kyle Pearson Sep 15 '11 at 4:27

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