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What Is a Euphemism?

L. S. Wynn
By L. S. Wynn
Updated May 23, 2024
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A euphemism is a word or phrase used to mask a rude or offensive concept. These figures of speech provide a technique to avoid taboos by being polite. Many euphemisms are so common, that we don't even recognize them as such. Perhaps the best way to learn about euphemisms is to investigate some clever examples:

  • We are experiencing heavy casualties (many soldiers are being killed)
  • There is a logjam in the river (constipation)
  • Downsizing, rightsizing or laying off (getting rid of employees)
  • Praying to the porcelain altar (vomiting into the toilet)
  • If something happens to me (if i die)
  • Sanitation Worker (trash collector)
  • Unplanned landing (plane crash)
  • Mal de mer (seasickness)

They usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Abbreviations: B.O. (body odor), W.C. (toilet)
  • Foreign words: faux (fake), or faux pas (foolish error)
  • Abstractions: before I go (before I die)
  • Indirections: rear-end, unmentionables
  • Longer words: flatulence, perspiration, mentally challenged
  • Technical terms: gluteus maximus
  • Mispronunciation: darn, shoot

Cacophemism or dysphemism are the opposites of euphemism. A dysphemism is an offensive substitute of something inoffensive. Let us consider a lazy person who is watching television, for example; he may euphemize his behavior by saying that he is 'recuperating from work'. A correlated dysphemism, or insulting substitute would be 'couch potato'.

Although minor, euphemism is an important part of learning the English language. It allows a person to express their feelings and thoughts, without being rude or even offensive to anyone.

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Discussion Comments
By anon154719 — On Feb 21, 2011

Your answers and examples really helped to illustrate the meaning of the word. I had no idea what it meant. But now it's crystal clear. Thanks.

By anon22725 — On Dec 09, 2008

Yes i was having s convo and someone said never mind the euphemism, and spelled it like that and they had me confused bout what they were talking about?

By anon13079 — On May 19, 2008

Really helped. I was looking for examples to better my understanding and you hit the nail right on the spot. thanks

By stare31 — On Mar 28, 2008

How about pre-owned for used, adult language for obscene language, and mobile community for trailer park.

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