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
- 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.
- 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?