Euphemism: Toning Down What You Write

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What a Euphemism Is 


  • The word euphemism comes from a Greek word meaning sounding good.
  • A euphemism is a literary device in which the writer substitutes a softer, less offensive expression for a person, place, thing, or event. The word may sound more polite, but it gets the message across.


Common Examples of Euphemism 


  • Died ⇒ passed away, departed, bought the farm
  • Prison ⇒ correctional facility
  • Pregnant ⇒ in the family way
  • Fired ⇒ let go
  • Firing employees  downsizing, staff being realigned
  • Obese ⇒ stout, plump, portly
  • Unemployed ⇒ between jobs
  • Garbage man ⇒ sanitation engineer
  • Poor  working class, economically disadvantaged
  • Broke  negative cash flow
  • Lie  put a spin on the truth
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    Drunk  had a few
  • Body odor ⇒ manly scent, B.O.
  • Bald ⇒ thin on top
  • Blunder  faux pas
  • Before I die  before I go
  • Sweat  perspiration, misting
  • Genocide  ethnic cleansing
  • Used car  pre-enjoyed vehicle



Why Use Euphemisms


  • Writers employ euphemisms in dialogue if a character doesn’t want to be considered insensitive, prejudiced, or unkind. For example, a character might say in a meeting, “It’s not my fault the Dugan family lives in substandard housing.” However, he says to his wife, “How do people like the Dugans cause themselves to live in such a slum?”
  • A character may use euphemisms to escape responsibility for something. For example, when innocent people are killed, he may call this collateral damage.
  • Euphemisms sometimes help paint the period of the story. For example, using powder room for toilet instead of the more current restroom.
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    They are often used to tone down profanity.
  • Writers use euphemisms to write figuratively about taboo issues. Possibly replace euthanize with put to sleep.
  • Euphemisms can add humor or hint at the ridiculous. For example, when a father asks why his teenage son was fired, the son says, “I was told I was partially proficient and the company’s staff was being re-engineered during a time when they’re dealing with under-performing assets.”


Euphemisms soften offensive expressions while getting the point across. Click to tweet.

When has one of your characters used a euphemism that helped define the character’s personality?

Allusion: A Literary Device Used in a Passing Comment

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What Allusion Is 

  • The word allusion comes from the Latin a playing with. Allusions play with a reference from another material source for use in a current writing.
  • An allusion is a literary device that makes a brief, passing reference to a real or imaginary place, person, thing, quote, or event found in such items as works of art, literature, folklore, mythologies, historical works, news stories, or religious manuscripts. It’s used in a cursory comment that the writer expects the reader to recognize and understand.
  • Many common allusions pop up from Greek Mythology or the Bible.

Common Examples of Allusion

   “Twenty dollars! Put the book back, Allison.” 
   Allison returned the book she’d wanted to buy for her grandmother to the shelf. “You’re such a Scrooge, Lane.”

Miser Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is the reference.

image by falco

   Jackson ended the phone call, dropped his hoe in the garden, and headed for the house. “I’m taking Mrs. Santini to the doctor.”
   He didn’t like it, but we called him the Good Samaritan of the family.

The Good Samaritan references a parable Jesus told about a man from Samaria being the only passerby who helped a man who lay beaten and robbed on the side of the road.

   Angie opened the box and groaned. Alex knew doughnuts were her Achilles’ heel.

In Greek Mythology, Achilles’ mother dipped him into a river that had special powers to protect him from his foretold early death. But where she held him by his heel was unprotected, and Achilles died from a poisonous arrow shot into his heel—his weak spot.

Why Use Allusion 

  • Writers use allusions as a ready-made device to describe something or make a point without having to go into lengthy details.
  • Allusions can broaden the reader’s understanding of something— connecting emotions or thoughts already associated with the object or event in the allusion to the current object or situation.
  • Allusions can simplify complex ideas by boiling them down to a commonly accepted reference.

Caution in Using Allusions

  • Allusions depend on the reader’s familiarity with the thing or event referenced, especially from older works of literature. However, if a reader is curious to know the connection, he can easily turn to the Internet.
  • Allusions can become overused clichés such as the two below.
image by thfinch

A loose cannon.

Cannon’s breaking loose from their moorings on ships of yesteryears during battles or storms and causing damage to the ship or crew is the reference. The phrase often alludes to an out of control person.


It was a dark and stormy night.

The opening phrase of the 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton is the reference.

An allusion can make a thing or event easy to understand in few words. Click to tweet.

What’s a common allusion you’ve used in speech or writing?

What’s Important in Writing Short Stories

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What’s Important to Consider in Writing a Short Story?


Writer’s Voice

  • Establish a strong, yet controlled, voice from the first line.


  • Limit the length of days or weeks the story covers.
  • Research to find (or create) a distinct setting that supports the story’s tone and plot. Your setting research should color your story rather than drive the story.
  • Show the setting through characters’ actions. No word-gobbling descriptions.


image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
  • Present an innovative and unexpected plot. Thoroughly imagine the whole story from beginning to end.
  • Know more about your story than your readers need to know so you can write a well-developed plot. The plot must have a beginning, middle, and end, but tell only enough of what you know to take the reader on a riveting short journey.
  • Focus on one conflict but make room for a small subplot to give the story some complexity and authenticity.
  • Don’t make the ending twist be your goal. The story must be about more than a gotcha.
  • Don’t set your story too far back in the protagonist’s life. Start after his life struggles heat up and as close to the climax as possible—when he takes a significant action toward his goal. Then advance to the conflict that creates the first obstacle to his goal. Conflicts leading to choices that lead to more conflict heighten emotional tension.
  • Infuse suspense so the reader constantly wants to know what happens next. Suspense is more than scary stuff happening.


  • Introduce few characters and write from one character’s point of view. Your protagonist should be the one who makes choices and advances the story.
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    Let the reader know immediately what the protagonist wants. Make her desire fresh.
  • Develop your characters through actions, thoughts, and dialogue. Every line of dialogue must develop a character or advance the plot. No idle talk.


  • Create dynamic, authentic interaction between characters through their complex personalities. Your goal is to create memorable characters.

 Good Planning and Execution

  • Brainstorm an original title that compels readers to delve into the story.
  • Rein in the exposition and the backstory.
  • Make beginning and ending lines the strongest in your story. Usher the reader into the story with a surprise that indicates what the whole story’s about, and like a spell, beckons him to read on. Don’t drag the ending out. When the reader reaches the ending line, he must care about the protagonist’s choice and can’t stop thinking about the story—wanting more. Perhaps he sees something about the world differently.
  • Don’t detail characters’ movements or getting them from one place to another; use quick transition words (later).
  • Edit the story to be shorter, tighter, more compelling. Pay attention to language—to word choices and clarity. Eliminate redundancy and repetition.
  • Kill your darlings. Every sentence should develop a character, advance the plot, or be eliminated.
  • Remember, conciseness doesn’t mean resorting to telling rather than showing feelings.

Find out what’s important in writing short stories. Click to tweet.

What do you want from a short story?