What is a Euphemism?

L. S. Wynn
L. S. Wynn

A euphemism is a word or phrase used to mask a rude or offensive concept. These figures of speech provide a technique to avoid taboos by being polite. Many euphemisms are so common, that we don't even recognize them as such. Perhaps the best way to learn about euphemisms is to investigate some clever examples:

"Downsizing" is a euphemism for getting rid of employees.
"Downsizing" is a euphemism for getting rid of employees.

"Couch potato" is a common euphemism for a lazy person.
"Couch potato" is a common euphemism for a lazy person.
  • We are experiencing heavy casualties (many soldiers are being killed)
  • There is a logjam in the river (constipation)
  • Downsizing, rightsizing or laying off (getting rid of employees)
  • Praying to the porcelain altar (vomiting into the toilet)
  • If something happens to me (if i die)
  • Sanitation Worker (trash collector)
  • Unplanned landing (plane crash)
  • Mal de mer (seasickness)
Praying to the porcelain altar is a euphemism for vomiting in the toilet.
Praying to the porcelain altar is a euphemism for vomiting in the toilet.

They usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Abbreviations: B.O. (body odor), W.C. (toilet)
  • Foreign words: faux (fake), or faux pas (foolish error)
  • Abstractions: before I go (before I die)
  • Indirections: rear-end, unmentionables
  • Longer words: flatulence, perspiration, mentally challenged
  • Technical terms: gluteus maximus
  • Mispronunciation: darn, shoot

Cacophemism or dysphemism are the opposites of euphemism. A dysphemism is an offensive substitute of something inoffensive. Let us consider a lazy person who is watching television, for example; he may euphemize his behavior by saying that he is 'recuperating from work'. A correlated dysphemism, or insulting substitute would be 'couch potato'.

A "sanitation worker" is a euphemism for trash collector.
A "sanitation worker" is a euphemism for trash collector.

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Discussion Comments

anon154719

Your answers and examples really helped to illustrate the meaning of the word. I had no idea what it meant. But now it's crystal clear. Thanks.

anon22725

Yes i was having s convo and someone said never mind the euphemism, and spelled it like that and they had me confused bout what they were talking about?

anon13079

Really helped. I was looking for examples to better my understanding and you hit the nail right on the spot. thanks

stare31

How about pre-owned for used, adult language for obscene language, and mobile community for trailer park.

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