Euphemisms: history, types and examples
Euphemisms: history, types and examples
is a substitution of an agreeable or less offensive expression in place of one
that may offend or suggest something unpleasant to the listener, or to make
it less troublesome for the speaker, as in the case of doublespeak. The
deployment of euphemisms is a central aspect within the public application of political correctness.
It may also
substitute a description of something or someone to avoid revealing secret,
holy, or sacred names to the uninitiated, or to obscure the identity of the
subject of a conversation from potential eavesdroppers. Some euphemisms are
intended to amuse.
CHAPTER 1. THE HISTORY OF EUPHEMISMS
The word euphemism
comes from the Greek
word euphemo, meaning "auspicious/good/fortunate speech/kind" which
in turn is derived from the Greek root-words eu (ευ), "good/well" + pheme (φήμη)
"speech/speaking". The eupheme was originally a word or phrase used
in place of a religious word or phrase that should not be spoken aloud;
etymologically, the eupheme is the opposite of the blaspheme
(evil-speaking). The primary example of taboo words requiring the use of a
euphemism are the unspeakable names for a deity, such as Persephone, Hecate, or Nemesis. Euphemism was
itself used as a euphemism by the ancient Greeks, meaning 'to keep a holy
silence' (speaking well by not speaking at all).
has revealed traces of taboo deformations in many languages. Several are known
to have occurred in Indo-European languages,
including the original Proto-Indo-European
words for bear (*rtkos), wolf (*wlkwos),
and deer (originally, hart;
the deformation likely occurred to avoid confusion with heart). In different
Indo-European languages, each of these words has a difficult etymology because of
taboo deformations — a euphemism was substituted for the original, which no
longer occurs in the language. An example is the Slavic root for bear — *medu-ed-,
which means "honey eater". One example in English is "donkey" replacing
the old Indo-European-derived word "ass". The word "dandelion" (lit.,
tooth of lion, referring to the shape of the leaves) is another example, being
a substitute for pissenlit, meaning "wet the bed", a possible
reference to the fact that dandelion was used as a diuretic.
In some languages of the Pacific,
using the name of a deceased chief is taboo. Among indigenous Australians,
it is forbidden to use the name, image, or audio-visual recording of the
deceased, so that the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation now publishes a warning to indigenous
Australians when using names, images or audio-visual recordings of people who
are often named after everyday things, this leads to the swift development of
euphemisms. These languages have a very high rate of vocabulary change.
In a similar
manner, classical Chinese
texts were expected to avoid using characters contained within the name of the
currently ruling emperor as a sign of
respect. In these instances, the relevant ideographs were replaced
by synonyms. While this practice creates an additional wrinkle for anyone
attempting to read or translate texts from the classical period, it does
provide a fairly accurate means of dating the documents under consideration.
The common names of illicit drugs, and the
plants used to obtain them, often undergo a process similar to taboo
deformation, because new terms are devised in order to discuss them secretly in
the presence of others. This process often occurs in English (e.g. speed or crank
for meth). It occurs even more in Spanish, e.g. the deformation of names for
cannabis: mota (lit., "something which moves" on the black market),
replacing grifa (lit., "something coarse to the touch"), replacing marihuana
(a female personal name, María Juana),
replacing cañamo (the original Spanish name for the
plant, derived from the Latin genus name Cannabis). All four of these names are
still used in various parts of the Hispanophone world, although cañamo
ironically has the least underworld connotation, and is often used to describe industrial hemp, or legitimate
1.2 History of
euphemisms in English
A great number
of euphemisms in English came from words with Latin roots. Farb (1974) writes
that after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066: "the community began to
make a distinction between a genteel and an obscene vocabulary, between the
Latinate words of the upper class and the lusty Anglo-Saxon of the lower. That
is why a duchess perspired and expectorated and menstruated--while a kitchen
maid sweated and spat and bled."
"good 'old' (read over the hill, chronologically-gifted) days" of the
English language, there was a dazzling amount of delightful doubletalk not to
mention a smattering of simply hilarious handles as seen below:
-- referred to as "French Cream" by time-enhanced tabbies and dowager
duchesses who added it to their tea (scandal broth)
-- bumfiddles, galligaskins, inexpressibles
-- Brother of the Bung
-- Brother of the Whip
in fruit" -- costard monger
-- cackling farts
boy" -- catch fart
-- bone picker
-- gut scraper or tormentor of cat gut
-- Gentleman of Three Outs, i.e. without money, without wit, and without
-- buttock broker
-- autem bawler who conducts his affairs in an "autem cacle tub"
(church meeting hall)
-- Brother of the Gusset
story or way" - circumbendibus
shop" -- Bow-Wow Shop (because the servant barks and the master bites)
At Arms" -- Brother of the Coif
-- bum brusher
-- the art of gentle craft
-- cat lap, scandal broth
-- embalming surgeon
-- comfortable importance
1.3 Euphemism treadmill
often evolve over time into taboo words
themselves, through a process described by W.V.O. Quine, and more
recently dubbed the "euphemism treadmill" by Steven Pinker. (cf. Gresham's Law in economics). This is
the well-known linguistic process known as 'pejoration' or 'semantic change'.
originally intended as euphemisms may lose their euphemistic value, acquiring
the negative connotations of their referents. In some cases, they may be used
mockingly and become dysphemisms.
the term "concentration camp",
to describe camps used to confine civilian members of the Boer community in
close (concentrated) quarters, was used by the British during the Second Boer War,
primarily because it sounded bland and inoffensive. Despite the high death
rates in the British concentration camps, the term remained acceptable as a
euphemism. However, after the Third Reich used the
expression to describe its death camps,
the term gained enormous negative connotation.
Also, in some
versions of English, "toilet room", itself a euphemism, was replaced
with "bathroom" and "water closet", which were replaced
with "restroom" and "W.C." These are also examples of
euphemisms which are geographically concentrated: the term "restroom"
is rarely used outside of the United States and "W.C.", where before
it was quite popular in Britain, is passing out of favor and becoming more
popular in France and is the polite term of choice in Germany.
easily change over time. "Idiot", "imbecile", and
"moron" were once
neutral terms for a developmentally delayed adult of toddler, preschool, and primary school mental ages,
respectively. As with Gresham's law,
negative connotations tend to crowd out neutral ones, so the phrase mentally retarded was
pressed into service to replace them. Now that,
too, is considered rude, used commonly as an insult of a person, thing, or
idea. As a result, new terms like "mentally challenged", "with
an intellectual disability", "learning difficulties" and
"special needs" have replaced "retarded". A similar
progression occurred with:
→ crippled → handicapped → disabled →
physically challenged → differently abled
the case of "crippled" the meaning has also broadened (and hence has
been narrowed with adjectives, which themselves have been euphemised); a
dyslexic or colorblind person, for example, would not be termed
"crippled". Even more recent is the use of person-centric phrases,
such as "person(s) with disability, dyslexia, colorblindness, etc.",
which ascribe a particular condition to those previously qualified with the
also serve to recirculate words that have passed out of use because of negative
connotation. The word "lame" from above, having faded from the
vernacular, was revitalized as a slang word generally meaning "not living
up to expectations". Connotation of a euphemism can also be subject-specific.
The term "handicap" was in common use to describe a physical
disability; it gained common use in sports and games to describe a scoring
advantage given to a player who has a disadvantageous standing in ability, and
this definition has remained common, even though the term as describing
physical disability has mostly faded from common use. One exception to this is
in the United States when designating "handicapped" parking spaces
for such individuals.
In the early
1960s, Major League
Baseball franchise owner and promoter Bill Veeck, who was
missing part of a leg, argued against the then-favored euphemism
"handicapped", saying he preferred "crippled" because it
was merely descriptive and did not carry connotations of limiting one's
capability the way "handicapped" (and all of its subsequent
euphemisms) seemed to do (Veeck as in Wreck, chapter "I'm Not Handicapped,
I'm Crippled"). Later, comedian George Carlin gave a
famous monologue of how he thought euphemisms can undermine appropriate
attitudes towards serious issues such as the evolving terms describing the
medical problem of the cumulative mental trauma of soldiers in high stress
shell shock (World War
I) → battle fatigue (World War II) → operational exhaustion (Korean War) → posttraumatic
stress disorder (Vietnam War)
that, as the name of the condition became more complicated and seemingly arcane,
sufferers of this condition have been taken less seriously as people with a
serious illness, and were given poorer treatment as a result. He also contended
that Vietnam veterans would have received the proper care and attention they
needed were the condition still called "shell shock". In the same
routine, he echoed Bill Veeck's opinion that "crippled" was a perfectly
valid term (and noted that early English
translations of the Bible seemed to
have no qualms about saying that Jesus "healed the
treadmill" exists, but is more rarely observed. One modern
example is the word scumbag,
which was originally a reference to a used condom, now is a
fairly mild epithet. This is in
stark contrast to the related term douchebag,
which is still semi-common but has a much more negative connotation.
Similarly, spastic was once a
neutral descriptor of a sufferer of muscular hypertonicity
in British English. But
after Joey Deacon appeared
on UK children's TV programme Blue Peter,
children began to use "spastic" (and variants such as
"spaz" and "spacker") as an insult and the term is now seen
as very offensive. The Spastics Society changed their name to Scope in 1994;
children then began to use "Scoper" as a similar insult. While the
term was developing into an insult in British English, it was evolving in a
radically different fashion in American English. In
the U.S., "spastic" became a nonoffensive synonym for clumsiness,
whether physical or mental, and nerdiness,
and is very often used in a self-deprecating manner. The difference between the
British and American connotations of "spastic" was starkly shown in
2006 when golf great Tiger Woods
used "spaz" to describe his putting in that year's Masters.
The remark went completely unnoticed in America, but caused a major uproar in
In his remarks
on the ever-changing London slang,
made in Down and Out
in Paris and London, George Orwell
mentioned both the euphemism treadmill and the dysphemism treadmill. He did not
use these now-established terms, but observed and commented on the respective
processes as early as in 1933.
CHAPTER 2. THE
EUPHEMISM: ITS USAGE, CLASSIFICATION AND OTHER PECULIARITIES
2.1 Usage of euphemisms
When a phrase
is used as a euphemism, it often becomes a metaphor whose literal meaning is
dropped. Euphemisms may be used to hide unpleasant or disturbing ideas, even
when the literal term for them is not necessarily offensive. This type of
euphemism is used in public
relations and politics,
where it is sometimes called doublespeak.
Sometimes, using euphemisms is equated to politeness. There are
also superstitious euphemisms, based (consciously or subconsciously) on the
idea that words have the power to bring bad fortune (for example, not speaking
the word "autism"; see etymology and common examples
below), and there are religious euphemisms, based on the idea that some words
are holy, or that some words are spiritually imperiling (taboo; see etymology).
fall into one or more of these categories:
Terms of foreign
and/or technical origin (derrière,
copulation, perspire, urinate, security breach, mierda de toro, prophylactic, feces
Abbreviations (GD for goddamn,
SOB for son of a bitch, BS for bullshit, TS for tough shit, SOL for shit out of
luck or PDQ for pretty damn(ed) quick, BFD for big
fucking deal, "MOFO for "motherfucker", POS
for piece of shit, STFU or STHU for shut the fuck/hell up, RTFM for read the
fucking manual /restart the fucking machine)
using a spelling alphabet,
especially in military contexts (Charlie Foxtrot for "Cluster fuck", Whiskey
Tango Foxtrot Oscar for "What the fuck, over?", Bravo Sierra for
"bullshit" — See Military
on abbreviations (H-e-double hockey sticks for "hell", "a-double
snakes" or "a-double-dollar-signs" for "ass", Sugar
Honey Iced Tea for "shit", bee with an itch or witch with a capital B
for "bitch", catch (or see) you next Tuesday (or Thursday) for "cunt")
mostly clinical settings (PITA for "pain in the ass" patient)
for phrases that are not otherwise common (PEBKAC for
"Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair", ID Ten T Error or ID-10T
Error for "Idiot", TOBAS for "Take Out Back And Shoot", SNAFU
for "Situation Normal: All Fucked Up")
ambiguities (it for excrement, the situation for pregnancy, going to the other
side for death, do it or come together in reference a sexual act, tired and emotional
Indirections (behind, unmentionables,
privates, live together, go to the bathroom, sleep together, sub-navel
dadgummit, efing c (fucking cunt), freakin, be-atch,shoot — See minced oath)
Litotes or reserved
understatement (not exactly thin for "fat", not completely truthful
for "lied", not unlike cheating for "an instance of
nouns to modifiers (makes her look slutty for "is a slut", right-wing
element for "Right Wing")
like John Thomas or Willy for penis,
Fanny for vulva (british), etc.
eg. pot for marijuana, laid for sex and so on
There is some
disagreement over whether certain terms are or are not euphemisms. For example,
sometimes the phrase visually impaired is labeled as a politically correct
euphemism for blind. However, visual impairment can
be a broader term, including, for example, people who have partial sight in one
eye, or even those with uncorrected poor vision, a group that would be excluded
by the word blind.
three antonyms of euphemism:
dysphemism, cacophemism, and power word. The first
can be either offensive or merely humorously deprecating with the second one
generally used more often in the sense of something deliberately offensive. The
last is used mainly in arguments to make a point seem more correct.
2.3 The evolution of euphemisms
be formed in a number of ways. Periphrasis or circumlocution is one
of the most common — to "speak around" a given word, implying it without
saying it. Over time, circumlocutions become recognized as established
euphemisms for particular words or ideas.
To alter the
pronunciation or spelling of a taboo
word (such as a swear word) to form a
euphemism is known as taboo deformation. There is an astonishing number of
taboo deformations in English, of which many refer to the infamous four-letter words. In American English,
words which are unacceptable on television, such as fuck, may be represented by deformations such
as freak — even in children's cartoons. Some examples of rhyming slang may
serve the same purpose — to call a person a berk sounds less offensive than to
call him a cunt, though berk is
short for Berkeley Hunt which
rhymes with cunt.
Bureaucracies such as
the military and large corporations
frequently spawn euphemisms of a more deliberate nature. Organizations coin doublespeak
expressions to describe objectionable actions in terms that seem neutral or
inoffensive. For example, a term used in the past for contamination by radioactive isotopes
is Sunshine units.
organizations kill people, sometimes deliberately and sometimes by mistake; in
doublespeak, the first may be called neutralizing the target and the second collateral damage.
Violent destruction of non-state enemies may be referred to as pacification. Two
common terms when a soldier is
accidentally killed (buys the farm) by their own side are friendly fire or blue
on blue (BOBbing) — "buy the farm" has its own interesting history.
Execution is an established
euphemism referring to the act of putting a person to death, with or without judicial process. It
originally referred to the execution, i.e., the carrying out, of a death warrant, which
is an authorization to a sheriff, prison warden, or other official to put a named person to death.
In legal usage, execution can still refer to the carrying out of other types of
orders; for example, in U.S. legal usage, a writ of execution is a
direction to enforce a civil money judgment by
seizing property. Likewise, lethal injection
itself may be considered a euphemism for putting the convict to death by poisoning.
Abortion originally meant premature birth, and
came to mean birth before viability. The term "abort" was extended to
mean any kind of premature ending, such as aborting the launch of a rocket.
Euphemisms have developed around the original meaning. Abortion, by itself,
came to mean induced abortion or elective abortion exclusively. Hence the
parallel term spontaneous abortion, an "act of nature", was dropped
in favor of the more neutral-sounding miscarriage.
unpleasantness such as pollution
may be toned down to outgassing
or runoff — descriptions
of physical processes rather than their damaging consequences. Some of this may
simply be the application of precise technical terminology
in the place of popular usage, but beyond precision, the advantage of technical
terminology may be its lack of emotional undertones and the likelihood the
general public (at least initially) will not recognize it for what it really
is; the disadvantage being the lack of real-life context.
Terms like "waste" and "wastewater" are also avoided in
favor of terms such as byproduct, recycling, reclaimed water and effluent. In
the oil industry, oil-based
drilling muds were simply renamed organic phase drilling muds, where organic
phase is a euphemism for "oil".
CHAPTER 3. THE
DIVISION OF THE EUPHEMISMS ACCORDING TO THEIR MEANING
3.1 Euphemisms for the profane
and expressions in the English
language are commonly taken from three areas: religion, excretion, and sex. While profanities themselves
have been around for centuries, their limited use in public and by the media has only slowly
become socially acceptable, and there are still many expressions which cannot
be used in polite conversation. One vantage point into the current societal
tolerance of profane language is found in the frequency of such language on prime-time television.
The word damn (and most other religious profanity in the English language) has
lost its shock value, and as a
consequence, euphemisms for it (e.g., dang, darn-it) have taken on a very
stodgy feeling. Euphemisms for male masturbation such as "bashing the
bishop", "waxing the dolphin",
"slamming the ham" or "banging one out" are used often
among young people (or youths) to avoid embarrassment in public. Excretory
profanity such as piss and shit in some cases may be acceptable among
informal (and usually younger)
friends (while they almost are never acceptable in formal relationships or
public use); euphemisms such as Number One and Number Two may be preferred for
use with children. Most sexual terms and expressions, even technical ones,
either remain unacceptable for general use or have undergone radical
deities as well as for religious practices and artifacts date to the earliest
of written records. Protection of sacred names, rituals, and concepts from the
uninitiated has always given rise to euphemisms, whether it be for exclusion of
outsiders or the retention of power among select practitioners. Examples from
the Egyptians and every other western religion
God and Jesus, such as gosh and gee, are used by Christians to avoid
taking the name of God in a
vain oath, which some believe would violate one of the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20)
Jews will typically use the word "Adonai" ('my Lord'). However, when
in a colloquial setting, this is deemed inappropriate among Jews, and so
typically Jews replace the word "Adonai" with the word
"HaShem", which literally means, "The Name". It is notable
that "Adonai" is itself a word that refers to the Jewish God's name, יהוה or YHWH, the original
pronunciation of which is unknown due to a lack of vowels. It was translated as
Jehovah for some
centuries, but scholars now agree that it was more likely Yahweh. Traditionally,
Jews have seen the name of God as ineffable and thus one
that must not be spoken. According to the Torah, when Moses saw the burning bush, he asked
God, "who are you?" The answer he heard was, "I am that I
am". Thus, Jews have for centuries thought that the name of the Almighty
is ineffable, because according to their logic pronouncing it would be
equivalent to calling oneself God.
hell, damnation, and the devil, on the other hand, are often
used to avoid invoking the power or drawing the attention of the adversary. The
most famous in the latter category is the expression what the dickens and its
variants, which does not refer to the famed British writer
but instead was a popular euphemism for Satan in its time.
While urinate and defecate are not
euphemisms, they are used almost exclusively in a clinical sense. The basic Anglo-Saxon words for
these functions, piss and shit, are considered vulgarities and unacceptable in
general use, despite the use of piss in the King James Bible (in Isaiah 36:12 and
The word manure, referring to
animal feces used as fertilizer
for plants, literally means "worked with the hands" (from the Latin: manus, manūs —
"hand"), alluding to the mixing of manure with earth. Several zoos market the byproduct of elephants and other
large herbivores as Zoo Doo
or Zoopoop, and there is a brand of chicken manure
available in garden stores under the name Cock-a-Doodle Doo.
Also, a brand of sheep manure is called "Baa Baa Doo." Similarly, the
abbreviation BS, or the word bull, often replaces the word bullshit in polite
society. (The term bullshit itself
generally means lies or nonsense, and not the literal "shit of a
bull", making it a dysphemism.)
There are any
number of lengthier periphrases
for excretion used to excuse oneself from company, such as to powder one's nose,
to see a man about a dog
(or horse), to drop the kids off at the pool or to release the chocolate
hostages (these expressions could actually be regarded as dysphemisms). Slang
expressions which are neither particularly euphemistic nor dysphemistic, such as take
a leak, form a separate category.
languages, various other sensitive subjects give rise to euphemisms and
dysphemisms. In Spanish, one such subject is class and status. The word señorito
is an example, although the euphemism treadmill has turned it to a
disparagement, at least in Mexico.
The Latin term
pudendum and the Greek term αιδοίον (aidoion) for the genitals literally
mean "shameful thing". Groin, crotch, and loins refer to a larger
region of the body, but are euphemistic when used to refer to the genitals. The
word masturbate is derived from Latin, the word manus meaning hand and the word
sturbare meaning to defile. In pornographic stories,
the words rosebud and starfish are often used as euphemisms for anus, generally
in the context of anal sex.
Sexual intercourse was once a euphemism
derived from the more general term intercourse by itself, which simply meant
"meeting" but now is normally used as a synonym for the longer
phrase, thus making the town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania,
a subject of jokes in modern usage.
The "baseball metaphors for sex"
are perhaps the most famous and widely-used set of polite euphemisms for sex
and relationship behavior in the U.S. The metaphors encompass terms like
"hitting it off" for a good start to relationship, "Striking
out" for being unlucky with a love interest, and
"running the bases" for progressing sexually in a relationship. The
"bases" themselves, from first to third, stand for various levels of
sexual activity from French
kissing to "petting", itself a euphemism for manual
genital stimulation, all of which is short of "scoring" or
"coming home", sexual intercourse. "Hitting a home run"
describes sex during the first date, "batting both ways" (also
"switch-hitting") or "batting for the other team" describes
bisexuality or homosexuality respectively,
and "stealing bases" refers to initiating new levels of sexual
contact without invitation. Baseball-related euphemisms also abound for the
"equipment"; "Bat and balls" are a common reference to the male genitalia, while
"glove" or "mitt" can refer to the female anatomy.
There are many
euphemisms for birth control
devices, sometimes even propagated by the manufacturers: Condoms are known as
"rubbers", "sheaths", "love gloves", "diving
suits", "raincoats", "Johnnies" (in Ireland and to a
lesser degree Britain) etc. The birth control
pill is known simply as "The Pill", and other methods of
birth control are also given generalized euphemisms like "The Patch",
"The Sponge", "Shots", etc. There are also many euphemisms
for menstruation, such as "having the painters in", being "on the
rag", "flying the flag" (originally a euphemism for hanging out
the bedsheet after a wedding night as a testament to the woman's virginity), or
it simply being "that time of the month", Munster playing at home
also common in reference to sexual orientations
and lifestyles. For example in the movie "Closer" the
character played by Jude Law
uses the euphemism "He valued his privacy" for being gay.
As an aside,
the use of euphemisms for sexual activity has grown under the pressure of
recent rulings by the Federal
Communications Commission regarding what constitutes
"decent" on-air broadcast
speech. The FCC
included many well known euphemisms in its lists of banned terms but indicated
that even new and unknown coinages might be considered indecent once it became
clear what they referenced. George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say On
TV" evolved into the "Incomplete List of Impolite Words",
available in text and audio form, and contains hundreds of euphemisms and
dysphemisms to genitalia, the act of having sex, various forms of sex, sexual
orientations, etc. that have all become too pejorative for polite conversation,
including such notables as "getting your pole varnished" and
"eating the tuna taco". Carlin also did a bit on the uses of the word
"fuck", originally only a dysphemism for the sex act but becoming an
adverb, adjective, noun, etc. This "diversity" is also mentioned on
in the movie The Boondock
Saints after the main characters commit a mass murder of bosses
followed by a violent joke on a friend who is in the Mafia.
Euphemisms referring to profanity itself
In the Spanish language,
words that mean "swear word" are used as exclamations in lieu of an
actual swear word. The Spanish word maldición, literally meaning
"curse" or "bad word", is occasionally used as an
interjection of lament or anger, to replace any of several Spanish profanities
that would otherwise be used in that same context. The same is true in Italian with the word maledizione.
In Greek, the word κατάρα "curse" is
found, although βρισιά, from ύβρις(hubris) is more commonly
used, and in English (especially British usage), an exclamation that is used in
a similar style is curses. The stereotyped "Perils of Pauline" silent film might have
the villain tying his victim to a railroad track. When
the hero rescues the heroine, the card might say, "Curses! Foiled
again!" in place of whatever cursing the character presumably uttered.
Euphemisms for death and murder
language contains numerous euphemisms related to dying, death, burial, and the people
and places which deal with death. The practice of using euphemisms for death is
likely to have originated with the magical belief that to
speak the word "death" was to invite death; where to "draw
Death's attention" is the ultimate bad fortune — a common theory holds
that death is a taboo subject in most English-speaking cultures for precisely
this reason. It may be said that one is not dying, but fading quickly because the
end is near. People who have died are referred to as having passed away or passed
or departed. Kick the
bucket seems innocuous enough until one considers that such might be
fatal if such removes a commonplace stand that prevents a suicidal hanging. Deceased is a
euphemism for "dead", and sometimes the deceased is said to have gone
to a better place, but this is used primarily among the religious with a
concept of Heaven. Was taken to Jesus implies
salvation specifically for Christians,
but met his maker may imply some judgment, content implied or unknown, by God.
Some Christians often use
phrases such as gone to be with the Lord or called to higher service (this
latter expression being particularly prevalent in the Salvation Army) or
"graduated" to express their belief that physical death is not the
end, but the beginning of the fuller realization of redemption.
often use the euphemism fallen asleep or fallen asleep in the Lord, which
reflects Orthodox beliefs concerning death and resurrection.
The dead body
entices many euphemisms, some polite and some profane, as well as dysphemisms such as worm
food, or dead meat. Modern rhyming slang contains
the expression brown bread. The corpse was once referred to as the shroud (or
house or tenement) of clay, and modern funerary workers use terms such as the loved one (title
of a novel about Hollywood
undertakers by Evelyn Waugh) or the
dear departed. (They themselves have given up the euphemism funeral director
for grief therapist, and hold arrangement conferences with relatives.) Among
themselves, mortuary technicians often refer to the corpse as the client. A
recently dead person may be referred to as "the late John Doe". The
term cemetery for "graveyard" is a borrowing from Greek, where it was a
euphemism, literally meaning 'sleeping place'. The term undertaking for
"burial" is so well-established that most people do not even
recognize it as a euphemism. In fact, undertaking has taken on a negative
connotation, as undertakers
have a devious reputation.
euphemisms and dysphemisms for death tend to be quite colorful, and someone who
has died is said to have passed away, passed on, checked out, bit the big one, kicked
the bucket, bitten the dust, popped their clogs, pegged it, carked it, turned
their toes up, bought the farm, cashed in their chips, fallen off their perch, croaked,
given up the ghost (originally a more respectful term, cf. the death of Jesus as translated in
the King James Version
of the Bible Mark 15:37),
gone south, gone west, gone to California, shuffled off this mortal coil (from William Shakespeare's Hamlet), Run down the
curtain and joined the Choir
Invisible, or assumed room temperature (actually a dysphemism in use
among mortuary technicians). When buried, they may be said to be pushing up
daisies, sleeping the big sleep, taking a dirt nap, checking out the grass from
underneath or six feet under. There are hundreds of such expressions in use.
(Old Burma-Shave jingle:
"If daisies are your favorite flower, keep pushin’ up those miles per
hour!") In Edwin Muir's 'The Horses' a euphemism is used to show the
elimination of the human race 'The seven days war that put the world to sleep.'
attracts euphemisms. One may put one out of one's misery, put one to sleep, or have
one put down, the latter two phrases being used primarily with dogs, cats, and
horses who are being or have been euthanized by a veterinarian. (These
terms are not usually applied to humans, because both medical ethics and law
deprecate euthanasia.) In fact, Dr. Bernard Nathanson has
pointed out that the word "euthanasia" itself is a euphemism, being
Greek for "good death".
euphemisms for killing are neither respectful nor playful, but instead clinical
and detached, including terminate, wet work, to take care of one, to do them in,
to off, or to take them out. To cut loose or open up on someone or something
means "to shoot at with every available weapon". Gangland euphemisms
for murder include whack, rub out, hit, take him for a ride, or "put him
in cement boots" or "put him in a concrete overcoat", the latter
two implying disposal in deep water, if then alive by drowning; the
arrangement for a killing may be a simple "contract", which suggests
a normal transaction of business. One of the most infamous euphemisms in
history was the German term Endlösung,
frequently translated in English as "Final Solution" as if it were
the consequence of a bureaucratic decision or even an academic exercise instead
of a systematic plan for genocide.
dysphemisms, especially for death are euphemisms or dysphemisms for other
unpleasant events and thus are unpleasant in their literal meaning, used to
generalize a bad event. "Having your ass handed to you", "left
for the rats", "toasted", "roasted",
"burned", "pounded", "bent over the barrel",
"screwed over" or other terms commonly describe death or the state of
imminent death, but also are common in describing defeat of any kind such as a
humiliating loss in a sport or video game,
being unfairly treated or cast aside in business affairs, being badly beaten in
a fight, and similar. Such an execution device as the electric chair has
been known as "Old Sparky" or "Yellow Mama", and the device
that delivers lethal chemicals to the condemned in a lethal injection is
reduced to "the needle".
with prejudice generally means to end one's employment without possibility of
rehire (as opposed to lay off, where the person can expect rehire if business
picks up), but the related term to terminate
with extreme prejudice now usually means to kill. The adjective extreme
may occasionally be omitted. In a famous line from the movie Apocalypse Now,
Captain Willard is told to terminate Colonel Kurtz's commission "with
extreme prejudice". An acronym, TWEP has been
coined from this phrase, which can be used as a verb: "He was
The Dead Parrot Sketch
Python's Flying Circus contains an extensive list of euphemisms for
death, referring to the deceased parrot that the character played by John Cleese had
purchased. The popularity of the sketch has itself increased the popularity of
some of these euphemisms — indeed, it has introduced another euphemism for
death, "pining for the fjords" — although in the sketch that phrase
was used by the shop owner to assert that the parrot was not dead, but was
merely quiet and contemplative.
A similar passage
occurs near the beginning of The Twelve Chairs,
where Bezenchuk, the undertaker, astonishes Vorobyaninov with his
classification of people by the euphemisms used to speak of their deaths. The
game Dungeon Siege contains
many euphemisms for death as well. Likewise the videogame Secret of Mana uses
the phrase sees the reaper to mean death.
Also, a scene
in the film Patch Adams
features Patch (Robin
Williams) dressed in an angel costume, reading out various synonyms
and euphemisms for the phrase "to die" to a man dying of cancer. This
evolves into a contest between the two men to see who can come up with more,
and better, euphemisms, ending when Patch comes up with "and if we bury
you ass up, we'll have a place to park my bike."
The name of
the village of Ban Grong
Greng in Thailand
is a euphemism for Death Village. It literally means the Village of the Dreaded
Gong. It is so named because it is the home to Wat Grong Greng (temple of the
dreaded gong) at which the burning of bodies at funerals is preceded by the
beating of a gong.
3.2 Euphemisms in job titles
common in job titles; some jobs have complicated titles that make them sound
more impressive than the common names would imply, such as CPA in place of car
parking attendant. Many of these euphemisms may include words such as engineer,
though in fact the people who do the job are not accredited in engineering.
Extreme cases, such as sanitation
engineer for janitor, or 'transparent-wall maintenance officer' for
window cleaner, are cited humorously more often than they are used seriously.
Another example is Henny
Youngman's joke that his brother-in-law claimed
to be a "diamond cutter" — his job was to mow the lawn at Yankee Stadium. Less
extreme cases, such as custodian for janitor or administrative assistant for
secretary, are considered more terms of respect than euphemisms. Where the work
itself is seen as distasteful, a euphemism may be used, for example
"rodent officer" for a rat-catcher, or
"cemetery operative" for a gravedigger. In the British comedy series Yes, Minister episode The Skeleton in the Cupboard,
the civil service in general and Bernard in particular refers to civil service
rat-catchers as "environmental health officers"
smashed or hammered
instead of 'drinking' or 'being drunk'
big, fluffy, full-figured or heavy-set
instead of 'fat'
for 'were killed'
wellness for benefits and
treatments that tend to only be used in times of sickness
restroom for toilet room in American English (the
word toilet was itself originally a euphemism)
of musical theatre, light in the loafers, good
fashion sense or confirmed bachelor for male homosexuality
in sensible shoes for lesbian
making love to, getting it on, cheeky time, doing it, making the beast with two
backs, or sleeping with for having sex with
landfill for garbage
dump (and a temporary garbage dump
is a transfer station), also often called a Civic Amenity in the
ill-advised for very poor or bad
intestinal release of pressure for fart
even "pre-loved" for used cars
motivation for bribe
student being held back a grade level for having
failed or flunked the grade level
facility for prison
or comparing answers for cheating
north of Ireland for Northern Ireland,
which is seen by many Irish people
as a term imposed by the British and therefore a profanity; however, saying the
north of Ireland may be primarily a way of identifying oneself with the Irish Nationalist
cause, rather than a euphemism
big C for cancer
(in addition, some people whisper the word when they say it in public, and
doctors euphemistically use technical terminology when discussing cancer in
front of patients, e.g., "c.a." or "neoplasia"/"neoplastic
for "tumor"); euphemisms for cancer are used even more so in the
Netherlands, because the Dutch word for cancer can be used as a curse word
or bath tissue for toilet paper
(usually used by toilet paper manufacturers)
custodian or caretaker for janitor (Also
originally a euphemism — in Latin, it means doorman. In the British Secret Service,
it may still carry the ancient meaning. It does in the novels of John le Carré.)
sarcastically, sanitation officer or sanitation engineer), or garbologist, for
"bin man" or garbage man
depressed neighborhood or culturally-deprived environment for ghetto or slum
force, police action, peace
process or conflict for war
single-car crash for drunk driver
mature or been around the block
for old or elderly
haem or heme (Americanism) for
blood, often used in medical settings ("severe heme loss").
persuasion for torture
take legal action for sue
fee for fine
gaming for gambling
about what one eats for being a picky eater
for being mentally retarded
that, mentally retarded for feeble minded
that, feeble minded for halfwit
adult material, or erotica for pornography
have been paid
for 'being fired from or by one's employer'
excesses (in a budget) for to fire employees
legal capital for stated capital
challenged for clumsy
reassignment for sex
differently abled for disabled
dependency for drug
dual-diagnosed for having both mental
illness and drug problems
co-morbidity for simultaneous
existence of related mental and physical health issues (a dysphemism,
gentlemen's club for go-go bar or strip club
fertility center for infertility center
for mental illness center
snowin' down south for your slip is showing
vertically-challenged for short
no pain (and
dozens of others) for drunk
fly is undone
for your zip is down
might suggest that most euphemisms are well-known expressions. Often euphemisms
can be somewhat situational; what might be used as a euphemism in a
conversation between two friends might make no sense to a third person. In this
case, the euphemism is being used as a type of innuendo. At other
times, the euphemism is common in some circles (such as the medical field) but
not others, becoming a type of jargon
or, in underworld situations especially, argot. One such example is the line
"put him in bed with the captain's daughter" from the popular sea
shanty Drunken Sailor.
Although this line may sound more like a reward for getting drunk to
non-seamen, the phrase "captain's daughter" was actually a euphemism
used among sailors for the cat o' nine tails
(itself a euphemism for a kind of whip).
Prime Minister Ferenc
Gyurcsány, in his controversial speech
that triggered the 2006 anti-government protests,
used a number of vulgar phrases that
were translated euphemistically by the media as "screwed up" and
"did not bother".
also be used by governments to rename statutes to use a less offensive
expression. For example, in Ontario,
Canada, the "Disabled Person Parking Permit"
was renamed to the "Accessible Parking Permit" in 2007.
euphemism itself can be used as a euphemism. In the animated short It's Grinch
Night (See Dr. Seuss), a child
asks to go to the euphemism, where euphemism is being used as a euphemism for outhouse. This
euphemistic use of "euphemism" also occurred in the play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
where a character requests, "Martha, will you show her where we keep the, uh,
euphemism?" It is analogous to the 19th-century use of unmentionables for underpants.
Also, lots of
euphemisms are used in the improvised television show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?.
They are used often in the game 'If You Know What I Mean', where players are
given a scene and have to use as many obscure clichés and euphemisms as
euphemism itself can be used as a euphemism. In the animated short It’s Grinch
Night (See Dr. Seuss), a child asks to go to the euphemism, where euphemism is
being used as a euphemism for outhouse. This euphemistic use of “euphemism”
also occurred in the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Where a character
requests, “Martha, will you show her where we keep the, uh, euphemism? It is
analogous to the 19th century use of unmentionables for underpants.
substitutes for their synonyms. Their use and very existence are caused either
by social conventions or by certain psychological factors. Most of them have
stylistic connotations in their semantic structures. One can also assume that
there is a special euphemistic connotation that can be singled out in the
semantic structure of each such word. Let me point out, too, that euphemistic
connotations in formal euphemisms are different in “flavour” from those in
slang euphemistic substitutes. In the first case they are solemn and delicately
evasive, and in the second rough and somewhat cynical, reflecting an attempt to
laugh off an unpleasant fact.
always tend to be a source of new formations because after a short period of
use the new term becomes so closely connected with the notion that it turns a
word as obnoxious as earlier synonym.
linguistic phenomenon euphemism is needed to be investigated in many aspects:
in comparison with other languages, definition of the time and reason of their
appearance, determination of usage in literary and scientific books. It helps
us to get information of the world people.
There are stable euphemisms, and are depending on situations. If constant
is a constant synonym of the certain concept situational depends on the
contents which at it is put or a context in which it is used.
It is possible to allocate also types euphemism behind features of
construction. Is one-worded – synonyms – «features – crafty», is two-worded and
an adjective – «evil spirit».
As a result of distribution and influences of mass media and different
psychological levers on language presently constructing type euphemism will
intensively penetrate into all spheres colloquial and a literary language. Were
especially strongly distributed tendencies in the English language in the USA
where advertising and business really without any restriction «break» language
on the order. Not surprisingly because some American linguists even suggest to
distinguish two languages: «language of the facts» (fact language) and
«language of ideas» (іdea language).
For the translator it is very important to know about features of the use
euphemism in language correctly to estimate a role of implied sense, it is
especial while translating publicist materials or fiction.
Benveniste, Émile, “Euphémismes
ancient and moderns”, in Problèmes de linguistique générale,
vol. 1, pp. 308-314. [originally published in: Die Sprache, I (1949), pp.
Rawson, Hugh, A Dictionary of Euphemism &
Other Doublespeak, second edition, 1995.
R.W. Holder: How Not to Say What You Mean: A
Dictionary of Euphemism, Oxford University Press, 504 pages, 2003.
Maledicta: The International Journal of Verbal
Aggression (ISSN US)
MsGlone, M.S., Beck, G., & Pfiester, R.A.
(2006). Contamination and camouflage in euphemisms. Communication Monographs,
Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar.
Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 678 p.
Мусабекова С. Euphemisms as Linguistic Phenomena
in the Sphere of Alcohol, Вестник КазНУ, серия филологическая, № 6 (105), 2007, c. 169-171.
Антрушина Г.Б., English
Lexicology, seventh edition, 1999, 287 p.
Retrieved from #"#">^ Euphemism Webster's
^ Cultural Protocol —
Death in a community Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
^ Dyen, Isidore, A. T. James & J. W. L. Cole. 1967.
Language divergence and
estimated word retention rate.
Language 43/1: 150-171.
^ Gould, S.J., The Mismeasure of Man, W.W. Norton & Co, New York, 1996, pp.
^ American Heritage
Dictionary definition of
"retarded" via answers.com.
^ George Carlin, They're Only Words, Track 14 on Parental
Advisory: Explicit Lyrics, Atlantic/Wea audio CD, 1990.
^ Random House.com.
^ The Age.com.
^ McCool, W.C. (1957-02-06), Return of Rongelapese to their Home Island — Note by
the Secretary, United States Atomic Energy
Commission, #"#">^ Snopes.com,
"Buy the Farm".
MATERIAL OTHER EXAMPLES OF ENGLISH EUPHEMISMS
FOR OTHER PLACES
plenty of words for places we need but would like to avoid in polite
common bawdy house, house of entertainment, house of ill-repute, massage
parlor, red-light establishment, (where littering and loitering are strictly
Sanitary landfill, municipal refuse yard
hoosegow, holding unit, secure facility
Living Unit: alternative lifestyle choice, smart-growth choice, studio suite,
efficiency unit, granny suite, transit-oriented young lifestyle choice
ablution hut, boghouse comfort station, garderobe, gentleman's quarters,
"his" and "hers", House of Honor, ladies room, lavatory,
men's room, necessarium, place of convenience, place of ease, porcelain palace,
public washroom, powder room, privy, room 100, the john, the jakes, the
redorter, throne room, washroom, water closet, W.C.
Accommodation: senior-oriented residence, continum of care lifestyle community,
all-inclusive retirement living community, full-service lifestyle residence,
assisted-living facility, independent-living facility, wellness and vitality
THE CALL OF NATURE:
one's nose, to see a man about a dog, to frost a rock
FOR UNPLEASANT REALITIES OF LIFE
in his book, Crazy Talk Stupid Talk (New York, Delacorte Press, 1976), suggests
that a euphemism is an exalted term used in place of a down-to-earth term, or
"an attempt to give prettier term to an uglier reality."
of "death" and "taxes", American spin doctors have come up
with a new term to describe the ravages of war and innovative ways to use
tax-payers money to rebuild sandcastles in Iraq as "post-kinetic
So, taking our
cue from this learned author, there are oodles of pretty names one can use to
describe unpleasant realities of life such as "death" and
It seems that
"taxes" are getting such a bad rap these days that spin-doctors have
been working overtime to come up with new variations on one very unpleasant
civic duty, to submit to taxation ...otherwise known as "the process of
plucking the most amount of feathers from a goose with the least amount of
hissing." Whoa, let's celebrate "Tax Free Day"!
It is therefore
not surprising that we have an amusing array of terms for taxation:
"access fees/charges", "carbon footprint contributions",
"civic assessment fees", "direct universal service
support", "economic incentives", "economic stimulus
packages", "environmental externality factors", "impact
fees", "income shifting options", "innovative sources of
financing", "late fees", "redistribution of wealth
alternatives", "redeployment of revenue", "restructuring of
budgets", "revenue enhancements", "service charges", "socially-responsible
public investments", "social support subsidies", "transfer
payments", "universal service charges", "value-added
revenue opportunities", and "user-fees".
As some have
suggested, "taxation" (is a legal and mandatory system of professional
if not progressive pick-pocketing), better known as a marvellous method of
"robbing Peter to pay Paul".
And, when one
is complaining about why one's wallet is just a tad lighter these days, just
remember what Mark Twain had to say on this matter: "The only difference
between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the
Do you dread
using the "d" word? The subject of unpleasant realities of life would
not be complete without a glimpse at the time-honored taboo topic of
"death". And, if one wishes to avoid using this five-letter word,
there are a myriad of other quaint if not quirky expressions from which to
deprivation of life, ashes to ashes and dust to dust, asleep, assumed room
temperature, ate his last supper
formaldehyde turkey, be taken, bereft of life, bite the biscuit, bite the big
one, bite the dust, bought the farm, bump[ed] off, buried, buy a pine condo,
called to a higher place, carked it, cashed in their chips, cashed out, ceased
to be, check out, checking out the grass from underneath, cold, conk, croak,
crossed over, crossed the bar, crossed the River Styx, cut-down, cut-off
last dance, deceased, dead, dead as a doornail, dead meat, defunct, demise,
departed, destroyed, diagnostic misadventure of high magnitude, dirt, dirt nap,
disappeared without warning, disincentivized, donated the liver pate, done for
eat it, enjoy
his/her last dance, enter the slumber room, erased, executed, expended,
expired, executive actioned, extinction of the person
failed to fulfill his/her wellness potential, failed to thrive, fatally
wounded, final solution, finished, fragged, fried
his people, get your wings, give up the ghost, going into the fertilizer
business, going to the big place in the sky, gone, gone belly-up, gone into the
west, gone to a better place, gone to meet their Maker, gone to be with the
Lord, gone to sleep, got a one-way ticket
in a better
place, in Heaven/Hell, in a kinder gentler place, in repose, in his/her box, in
the casket, in the clover, in the eternity box, in the grave, in the ground, in
the mortuary, interred
choir invisible, joined the White Buffalo in the sky
bucket, kicked off, killed
late, left us,
lie down with one's fathers, lifeless, liquidated, living-impaired, lost
member of the
Boot Hill brigade, metabolic processes are now history, mortified
patient care outcome, neutralized, no longer a factor, no longer with us, no
more, non-living, nonviable
offed, off the
fare, passed away/on/over, pegged it, perished, permanently indisposed,
permanently out of print, pining for the fjords, popped his/her clogs, popped
off, promoted to Sub-Terranean Truffle Inspector, pushing up the daisies, put
in peace (R.I.P.), returned to the ground, rode off into the sunset, rubbed
out, run down the curtain
sell the farm,
shuffled off the mortal coil, six-feet under, sleeping with the fishes,
snuffed, snuff it, snuffed out, sprouted wings, stiff, stone-dead, succombed,
suffered an unfortunate turn of events, sustained a therapeutic misadventure
taking a dirt
nap, taken from us, terminal episode, terminally-inconvenienced, terminated,
terminated with extreme prejudice, that good night, took his/her last breath,
T.U. - Toes Up, turn their toes up, turn into a ghost
VSA - Vital
Elysian fields, went to the big blue baseball field/shopping mall in the sky,
whacked, with the ancestors, and last but not least, worm food.
FOR GENTLE MEN?
century is full of fun...from inns of inequity to palaces of pleasure, and the
English language from Shakespeare onwards has been a riot of linguistic wit and
Here are a few
choice phrases referring to the flamboyance of some fly-by-night fellows.
Commoner: An empty bottle.
Companion: A louse or gnit.
Master: A highway robber.
of Three Ins: A gentleman who is in debt, in jail, and in danger of remaining
there for life.
of Three Outs: A gentleman who is without credit/money, without wit, and
language is full of colorful terms for the expulsion of "vagrant airs and
volatile subjects" by members of the animal kingdom.
perpetrate foul winds in enclosed places or at inopportune times such as
"Puff the Methane Dinosaur" may be referred to as "frigging
freepers" "flaming farteurs", "flutterblasters",
"fundusbreakers" or simply those who are known by family and friends
as "Flatus Factory.
"random if not reticent release of a wayward wind", or perhaps
several "entertaining emissions" may also be referred to in mixed
company at a social gathering as "a cocktail party "calico",
"a party paradiddle" or "a sumptuous slider". Scientific snobs
also known as "Princes of Plotch & Scotch" prefer to define these
"enigmatic emanations" as "self-processed, self-propelled and
self-stoked organic fuels in a self-contained power plant".
question is whether they're willing to accept the entertaining euphemisms for
the "elderly": active-lifestyler, advanced in years, bat, biddy,
chronologically-gifted, contemplative character, codger, cougar, crone,
curmudgeon, dentured dandy, empty-nester, fogey, Freedom 55er, gaffer, geezer,
golden-ager, granny, gramps, grey-hairs, Little Old Lady (LOL), Little Old Man
(LOM), longer-living, mature individual, ninny, noteworthy for his/her
character lines, octogenarian, old biddy, old coot, old dog, old fox, old soul,
oldster, old-timer, over-the-hill, positive ager, prime-timer, retiree,
salt-and-pepper generation, self-caring person, senior citizen, senior,
seasoned citizen, silver fox, Third-Ager, wise woman, women of a certain age,
woman of substance, and young-at-heart.