On the Use of Euphemisms

Letter blocks arranged to spell the word Euphemism

There are plenty of topics that make people uncomfortable. To get around this discomfort, speakers and writers have been employing euphemisms for centuries.

A euphemism is “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.”1“euphemism,” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/euphemism. Accessed 10/10/2022.. The word itself comes from the Greek εὐφημισμος euphēmismós, from the noun εὐφημια euphēmía meaning “good speech” (an antonym of βλᾰσφημιᾱ blasphēmia “deceitful speech”).

Euphemisms are often used to avoid subjects that are usually considered impolite or taboo:

Deathdemisedpassed onis no moreceased to beexpiredgone to meet one’s makerlatebereft of liferests in peacepushing up the daisiesshuffled off this mortal coilrun down the curtain, and joined the choir invisible2From Monty Python’s famous Dead Parrot Sketchkicked the bucket, gone to one’s great reward, crossed over, bought the farm, departed, deceased, lost, no longer with us, gave up the ghost, in a better place, gone home, transitioned, and of course the most common of all: passed away

Losing a Job: let go, between jobs, downsized, taking early retirement, pursuing other opportunities, considering options

Sex: making love, doing it, sleeping with, fooling around, going all the way, hooking up

Bodily functions: powder your nose, break wind, visit the ladies’ room, indisposed, number one, number two, time of the month

It’s easy to see why people use euphemisms; who wants to discuss unpleasant or offensive matters directly? But should a writer employ them in their writing?

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