He’s gone to a better place. She’s between jobs. Euphemism examples are all around once you know what to look for.
When we’re uncomfortable using direct language because it might be too harsh or unpleasant, we typically reach for a euphemism instead. This type of figurative language is often used to obscure unpleasantness or to make people more comfortable.
The word “euphemism” is descended from the Greek “euphēmismos,” which combines “eu,” the word for well or good, with “pheme,” speaking. Euphemisms are not limited to colloquial speech. They often turn up in more formal settings where people wish to be delicate. They are also used in political phrasing in order to frame an idea or action in the most appealing light.
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Examples of Euphemism
Once you recognize a euphemism, you will see that they pepper everyday language. A few of the most common situations where euphemisms are used include:
1. References to Overweight or Obesity.
The realm of body image and size is fraught with complex emotions. So, a mother might refer to her teenage son as “big-boned” or “husky” to avoid words like “fat,” which is typically seen as rude.
2. Talking about Bodily Functions.
People tend to be squeamish when it comes to discussing what happens in the bathroom. Sometimes direct language can also sound too abstract or scientific. So, someone might say they are going to powder their nose when what they really plan to do is urinate. Or, someone who is excusing themselves to defecate may say they are “dropping kids off at the pool.” Similarly, people may choose to substitute “break wind” when they mean fart.
Euphemisms for sex were already common in the time of Shakespeare. For example, in Othello, Iago tells Desdemona’s father that she and her new husband are “making the beast with two backs.” There are also many great euphemism examples for the result of having sex. For instance, it used to be uncommon to describe a woman as pregnant. Instead, people would say she was “in a family way.”
Sex and death are both unavoidable facts of life, but that doesn’t make people, in general, more comfortable with them. As a result, there are dozens of euphemisms for death, ranging from oblique ones like “passed away” to comedic ones like “kicked the oxygen habit.”
5. Government Actions.
George Orwell showed enormous foresight when he described doublespeak, newspeak, and the Ministry of Truth in his book 1984. Today, we have examples like “collateral damage,” which refer to the deaths of civilians in war. Another example is “correctional facility,” which can be said to obscure the function and reality of prison.
“Ethnic cleansing” is the removal of ethnic, religious, or racial groups from an area. A more direct word for this is “genocide.
6. Painful life circumstances.
When we’re talking about moments such as job loss, death, and other negative happenings, some people feel it’s insensitive to be direct. So, when someone is being fired from their job, the person doing the firing may say they are being “let go.” This is one of those idioms that make something sound positive in a way that is almost dishonest, as someone who is being let go doesn’t have the freedom to stay if they wanted to.
7. Avoiding offensive accusations.
Sometimes people aren’t comfortable saying negative things about others. In other situations, they may use a euphemism for irony and comedic effect. So, someone who is a liar may be described as “economical with the truth.” Likewise, a person who plagiarized may be asked if they recycled someone else’s research.
Are Euphemisms Bad?
Like any literary device, a euphemism can be good or bad, depending on the context. In some cases, indirect expressions may be considered kinder than blunter language.
There are also times when a euphemism can affect the clarity of your writing inappropriately. For example, a news article about struggles associated with old age shouldn’t talk about someone’s “sunset years.” However, a piece about controlling feral cat populations will likely use “euthanize” because it is the clinical word used by animal control officers, regardless of connotation.
The Final Word on Euphemism Examples
The English language is full of figures of speech that are used to soften the blow of words or ideas we find unpleasant. Sometimes, a euphemism is the kinder choice. Other times, a more direct approach can be clearer and also more respectful. Try writing both with and without the euphemism to see which sounds better to your ears.
FAQs About Euphemism Examples
What is the meaning of the word “euphemism”?
A euphemism is a mild or indirect figure of speech used in place of one that is considered too blunt or harsh.
What is the difference between a euphemism and a dysphemism?
Euphemisms are typically positive words in place of negative concepts. A dysphemism is a derogatory or unpleasant term used in place of a neutral or pleasant one.
Are euphemisms metaphors?
While both are figurative language, they differ in application. A metaphor uses two, unlike things to make an expression clearer. A euphemism, by contrast, is used in place of a concept that people do not wish to refer to directly.
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