A euphemism is “the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague term for one considered to be harsh, blunt, or offensive”. The term euphemism refers to indirect expressions that are polite which replace words and phrases contemplated harsh and impolite or which suggest something unacceptable. Sometimes called doublespeak, a word or phrase which pretends to communicate but doesn’t. It makes the bad seem good, the unpleasant seem attractive, the unnatural seem natural, the negative seem positive, or at least tolerable. It is language which shifts, avoids or denies responsibility. It conceals or prevents thought. 

Euphemism depends largely on the social context of the speakers and writers where they feel the need to replace certain words which may prove embarrassing for certain listeners or readers in a specific situation. Euphemism helps writers to convey those ideas which have become a social taboo and are excessively awkward to mention directly. Writers expertly choose appropriate words to refer to and discuss a subject indirectly which otherwise are not circulated due to strict social censorship e.g. religious fanaticism, political theories, sexuality, death etc. Thus, euphemism is a useful tool that allows writers to write figuratively about the defamatory issues.

Definition of Euphemism

Euphemism is an idiomatic interpretation which loses its factual meanings and refers to something else in order to hide its nastiness. It is a polite or mild word or manifestation used to refer to something taboo, embarrassing, or unpleasant. Euphemisms are particularly common relating to bodily functions and illegal behaviour, and to replacement for profanity. For example, “kick the bucket” is a euphemism that represents the death of a person. In addition, many organizations use the term “downsizing” for the distressing act of “firing” its employees.

Euphemisms may be used to amuse, downplay the relentlessness of a situation, or obscure the speaker’s awkwardness about something. Euphemisms can improve over time to avoid having to say a particular word, though sometimes euphemisms themselves become taboo once they are closely related enough with the aggressive concept. For example, “toilet” sounds a bit crasser in American English than our current “bathroom” or “restroom,” yet it replaced earlier words that had become offensive such as “house-of-office” and “privy-house.”

For example, we use many words and phrases to refer to urination: “I have to use the little boys’ room,” “I have to go to the bathroom,” and “I have to see a man about a horse” are all evasive ways of referring to the same thing.

Here are some particularly amusing examples, except where downright offensive.
  • Going to the other side for death,
  • Between jobs for unemployed.
  • On the streets for homeless.
  • Passed away for die.
  • Comfort woman for prostitute
  • Do it or come together in reference to a sexual act.
  • Adult entertainment for pornography.

Euphemism masks a rude or impolite expression but conveys the concept clearly and politely. Lets see below the techniques selected to create euphemism.
    • It may be in the form of abbreviations e.g. B.O. (body odor), W.C. (toilet) etc.
    • Using technical terms may reduce the discourtesy exhibited by words e.g. gluteus maximus.
    • Sometimes, they are abstractions e.g. before I go (before I die).
    • They may be indirect expressions substituting direct ones which may sound disrespectful or offensive.g. rear-end etc.
    • Deliberately mispronouncing an embarrassing word may reduce its severity e.g. darn, shoot etc.
    • Using longer words or phrases can also mask obnoxious words e.g. perspiration for sweat, flatulence for farting, mentally challenged for stupid etc.
    • Foreign words may be used to replace an impolite expression e.g. faux (fake), or faux pas (foolish error) etc.

Euphemism Examples

Euphemism is frequently used in everyday life. Let us look at some common euphemism examples:
  • He is always tired and emotional (drunk).
  • You are becoming a little thin on top (bald).
  • Our teacher is in the family way (pregnant).
  • Riding the crimson wave; visit from Aunt Flo; period (menstruation)
  • In a better place; pass away; meet your maker (to die)
  • We do not hire mentally challenged (stupid) people.
  • He is a special child (disabled or retarded).
  • In a family way; with child; bun in the oven (to be pregnant)
  • Three sheets to the wind; wasted; go on a bender (drunk)
  • You aren’t poor, you are economically disadvantaged.
  • You aren’t broke, you have temporary negative cash flow.
  • You do not live in a slum but in substandard housing, or in an economically depressed neighborhood, or culturally deprived environment.
  • If you are managing company stakeholders, that means you are lobbying, which is really the same as bribing.
  • On a lighter note, intelligent ventilation points, when speaking of a garment are – armholes!
  • You’re not buying a used car, you are purchasing a pre-enjoyed or pre-loved vehicle.
  • If you are a bank, bad, crappy debts are non- or under-performing assets.
  • Ah, genuine imitation leather. That new car smell. But really, it’s cheesy vinyl. 100% virgin cheesy vinyl.

Types of Euphemism

There are many different sub-categories of Euphemisms. Here are some of the different types of euphemisms:

  • Phonetic modification: We modify strong swear words or words that are not meant to be spoken lightly (i.e., God or Jesus) so that the new phonetic euphemism sounds very similar to the original.

Modifications may take the case of shortening the word or expression (Jeez, What the); using an acronym or one letter to represent the curse word (WTF, B-word, A-hole) or intentional mispronunciations (shoot, shut the front door, dang, fudge); 

  • Figures of speech: Many euphemisms come in the form of different figures of speech. These may be vague statements (let’s do it, she’s a piece of work); other understatements or comparisons or metaphors (make the beast with two backs, kick the bucket, a visit from the stork).
  • Slang: Plenty of slang terms come to stand for taboo words or expressions. Since slang can vary greatly from one region or country to the next, at times some expressions have very different euphemistic meanings. For example, in the US, “pissed” means angry, whereas in the UK it means drunk.