What Is a Euphemism?

A euphemism is an agreeable or inoffensive term used to replace a rude or offensive one.

Euphemisms typically employ wit to lessen the impact of bad news or to make discussions around difficult topics easier. They are often used in politics, business, and uncomfortable discussions (e.g., conversations about death or sex).

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Euphemisms
  • Video Lesson
  • Examples of Common Euphemisms
  • Why Euphemisms Are Important
  • Test Time!
euphemism examples

Examples of Euphemisms

Euphemisms in Politics

  • Our active defense will be initiated against the regime.
  • (Euphemism for "We will attack them.")
  • A period of negative growth has been forecast.
  • ("A recession is pending.")
  • The police force is being streamlined.
  • ("We are reducing police numbers.")
As well as employing euphemisms, the three examples above all use the passive voice. This is another technique for avoiding blame or reducing the impact of statements.

Euphemisms in Business

  • From Monday, John will be seeking a career change opportunity.
  • ("John has been fired.")
  • John is making a team move from the Sales Department to the Security Section.
  • ("John has been fired from the Sales Department.")
  • I will enjoy the challenge.
  • ("That is a difficult task!")

Euphemisms in Uncomfortable Discussions

  • Your budgie has been put to sleep.
  • ("The vet had to kill your budgie.")
  • Make sure you're hatted up when making love.
  • ("Wear a condom during sex.")
  • I need to visit the throne room.
  • ("I need the toilet.")
A euphemism is a figure of speech, which means "an expression in which the words are not used in their literal sense." Therefore, euphemisms are classified as figurative language, which is the "use of words in an unusual or imaginative manner."

Video Lesson

Here is a video summarizing this lesson on euphemisms: video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

Examples of Common Euphemisms

Here are some examples of common euphemisms:
  • He has passed away.
  • (Euphemism for "He has died.")
  • She is between jobs.
  • ("She is unemployed.")
  • She has resigned her commission.
  • ("She has been sacked.")
  • He is a little thin on top.
  • ("He is losing his hair.")
  • This pre-loved sofa is for sale.
  • ("This second-hand sofa is for sale.")
  • She is economical with the truth.
  • ("She is a liar.")
Here are some more common euphemisms:
a few sandwiches short of a picnicmad
cognitively challengedstupid
didn't make ithas died
differently ableddisabled
exotic dancerstripper
kicked the buckethas died
knocked upis pregnant
letting you goyou're fired
lost his marblesmad
over the hilltoo old to function effectively
visually challengedvisually impaired
A euphemism does not have to be common to be useful. It is perfectly allowable to invent your own as long as they are understandable.
  • Adam, did you recycle Jack's research?
  • ("Did you plagiarize Jack's research?")
  • There is a technicoloured yawn on path.
  • ("There is a pool of vomit on the path")

Why Euphemisms Are Important

Consider a euphemism to deliver tough news.

While euphemisms can be used for comic effect, they can also be used to soften tough news or uncomfortable ideas. Euphemisms usually undermine the offensiveness of a negative idea (e.g., death, old age, madness) by being polite, witty, or a bit of both.

When talking to a grieving widow, for example, a polite euphemism for dead (e.g., "passed away," "resting in peace") will be more appropriate than a witty one (e.g., "kicked the oxygen habit," "plucking turnips"). You can use well-known euphemisms or even invent your own.

Key Point

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.