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What is Euphemism

“Wisdom is not in words; Wisdom is meaning within words.” ~ Khalil Gibran


I have written about how important the choice of words is in writing, and talked about denotation and connotation. Euphemism is another way of choosing the right words.  Properly defined, euphemism is substituting an agreeable or less offensive word or phrase in place of one that may sound rude or offensive to the reader or listener. For example:

  • Passed away for died. Died sounds rather harsh; but when you say passed away, it softens up a bit.
  • Air-sickness bag for a vomit bag. The sound of vomit bag may be nauseating for some people; but using the word air-sickness says what is meant and yet is not so disagreeable.
  • Sanitation worker for garbage man. Garbage man sounds a little derogatory, but sanitation worker gives the worker some respect.
  • Not completely truthful for lied. Saying lied is a little harsh, but not being truthful sounds nicer.
  • Portly for fat. Calling someone fat is rude, but saying someone is portly is polite.
  • Visually impaired for blind. Saying someone is visually impaired is being nice, but saying someone’s blind sounds insensitive.
  • Indisposed for sick. Again – saying someone is indisposed is a nice way of saying someone is sick.
  • Laid off for fired. Fired is a harsh word, but saying laid off is not.
  • Restroom for bathroom/toilet. If you wish to go to the restroom, it doesn’t sound so bad when you’re among people.
  • In reduced circumstances for poor.  Calling someone poor is being a little insensitive, but saying he’s in reduced circumstances is being considerate to the person. 

Euphemisms may also be in the form of abbreviations (BO for body odor), or foreign terms (faux pas for foolish error). Whatever form they’re in, euphemisms are metaphors since they lose their literal meanings. It won’t be wrong to say that using euphemisms is being polite.


Do you agree with the use of euphemisms? Or would you rather use the original words?


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