Dysphoria and Other Dys- Words

By Maeve Maddox

A reader has asked for a post on dysphoria.

Dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria. Whereas euphoria is a feeling of well-being, dysphoria is a state marked by feeling of unease or discomfort.

Perhaps the most familiar type of dysphoria comes from pangs of conscience: the bad feeling in the pit of one’s stomach that results from having done something unkind or dishonest.

Embarrassment is another kind of dysphoria, as is the sense of let-down that follows the euphoria felt by drug addicts and thrill seekers when the source of pleasure is withdrawn.

Some psychologists have adopted the term “gender dysphoria” in place of “gender identity disorder (GID)” to describe the feelings of people who experience a sense that there’s a mismatch between their bodies and their genders.

English contains dozens of words that begin with dys-. The prefix denotes the meaning of bad or difficult. Most dys- words are scientific terms, many of them dealing with pathologies. A few have entered the common general vocabulary.

Here are the most commonly heard dys- words:

dysentery (noun): an often epidemic or endemic disease characterized by severe diarrhea.

dysfunctional (adjective): impaired, not functioning as it should.

dyslexia (noun): a learning disability characterized by varying difficulties in processing written language.

dyspepsia (noun): severe indigestion. Figuratively, dyspepsia, together with its adjective form dyspeptic, refers to ill humor. For example, “Then it would be dismissed as a non-issue despite the fact that invariably the dyspetic editors of The Daily Mail would turn out to be proven correct!”

dysplasia (noun): an abnormal growth or development. In dogs, hip dysplasia is an abnormal formation of the hip socket that, in its more severe form, can eventually cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the of the joints.

dystopian (adjective): oppressive and miserable. The word dystopia is the opposite of utopia, a word coined to represent an ideal human society. Motion pictures that show a future in which people are oppressed by an intrusive government are said to present “a dystopian vision of the future.”

dystrophy (noun): a wasting away of the body. Muscular dystrophy is a disorder characterized by progressive weakness and wasting of skeletal muscles.

Here are some less common dys- words that a few writers may find useful:

dysgenic (adjective): exerting a detrimental effect on the race, tending towards racial degeneration.
dyskinesia (noun): impaired motion.
dysmenorrhea (noun): painful menstruation.
dysphagia (noun): difficulty in swallowing.
dysphonia (noun): impairment of the voice.
dysrhythmia (noun): disordered rhythm in the brain waves.

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5 Responses to “Dysphoria and Other Dys- Words”

  • Curtis

    Maeve,
    When I saw ‘dysfunctional,’ I checked for the alternate spelling ‘disfunctional,’ which is what I would have automatically used. Is there some rule or guideline as to when dys- or dis- is the proper choice?

  • Dan

    Curtis, I’m pretty sure disfunctional is just a misspelling of dysfunctional.

  • thebluebird11

    Maeve, just sticking my 2 cents in and saying that dysrhythmia can refer to any abnormal rhythm of the heart as well. Although many medical people (including doctors) use the term “cardiac arrhythmia,” that means NO rhythm (i.e. the person would be dead), so really the correct term for anything other than normal cardiac rhythm is dysrhythmia.

  • Maeve

    Curtis,
    I second Dan’s answer. Btw, I’m planning a post on the difference between the dys/dis prefixes.
    Bluebird,
    Interesting. And do the doctors tell living people they’re suffering from cardiac arrhythmia?

  • Julie R Butler

    I learned a couple of other “dys-” words that are related to dyslexia when I was hired to homeschool a middle school girl a few years back. She absolutely hated to write anything out, so upon doing some research, I discovered that there is a developmental disorder called “dysgraphia.” Then there is “dyscalculia,” which is difficulty with such concepts as time, measurement, and spatial reasoning.

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