Article published in:Exploring (im)politeness in ancient languages
Edited by Kim Ridealgh
[Journal of Historical Pragmatics 20:2] 2019
► pp. 186–203
How filthy was Cleopatra?
Looking for dysphemistic words in ancient Greek
Starting from a sexual pun in Greek reputedly made by Cleopatra in 31 bce on the word τορύνη (torunē) (‘ladle’), this paper argues that the linguist can successfully take up the “evaluator’s role” (Kádár and Culpeper 2010: 18) in ascertaining the dysphemistic value of words in historical corpora. Typically offensive words constitute a special category of impolite verbal behaviours, and it is argued that a reflection of the historical schemata which guided the use of dysphemistic words by speakers can be detected in patterns of use in extant texts, and used as a guide for their identification. The paper highlights the need for greater openness as to which “denotata” produce offensive words, and more cross-linguistic work on dysphemism. It discusses the problems of interpretation of historical metaphors, and it ends with a detailed discussion of the evidence for the dysphemistic value of the word on which Cleopatra’s pun hinges.
Keywords: Ancient Greek, dysphemism, historical linguistics, impoliteness, metaphors, offence, pragmatics, semantics, sex, taboo
Published online: 10 December 2019
Adams, Robert M.
Allan, Keith and Kate Burridge
Bax, Marcel and Daniel Z. Kádár
Brown, Penelope and Stephen C. Levinson
Forthcoming. “Fluid Vocabulary: The Greek and Latin Lexicon of Bodily Effluvia”. In Laurence Totelin, Victoria Leonard and Mark Bradley eds Bodily Fluids/Fluid Bodies in Greek and Roman Antiquity London Routledge
Hallett, Judith P.
Jocelyn, Henry D.
Kádár, Dániel Z.
Kádár, Dániel Z. and Jonathan Culpeper
Kádár, Dániel Z. and Michael Haugh
Luján, Eugenio R.
Patrick, Peter L.
Sommerstein, Alan H.