Grammar Euphemisms: What Is a Euphemism? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Euphemisms: What Is a Euphemism?

Some people may not be able to say what a euphemism is, but there’s a good chance they often use euphemisms, including sometimes without being aware. In today’s grammar post, we’ll explain what euphemisms are and how to use them.

What Exactly Is a Euphemism?

A euphemism is a mild term—typically an idiomatic one—that’s used in place of another that could be received as harsh, hurtful, or offensive. It’s our way of taking the edge off language that might be confrontational or bothersome to another person.

As mentioned, you probably use euphemisms even if you might not realize you are doing so. For example, you might say that:

a person passed away rather than that they died.

someone was let go from their job as opposed to being fired.

a friend is newly single rather than that he or she has divorced or been recently dumped.

In each case, the euphemism adds a touch of grace and sensitivity to what is being expressed. Although the result of the euphemism and the more-raw statement is the same, the euphemism often puts less force behind the truth.

More Examples of Euphemisms

Euphemisms can be heard everywhere and anytime. While some are more popular in certain regions or social circles than others, here are several that may be familiar to many of us:

Dan likes to tell tall tales about his time in the army.
(Dan exaggerates or lies about his past or personal history.)

Jimmy asked if he could borrow our guest room while he was between jobs.
(Jimmy is softening the fact he is now unemployed.)

Roger never liked to play cards until he lived in the crowbar hotel.
(The euphemism makes light of the fact that Roger spent time in jail.)

Barbara felt ill at dinner and ended up steering the porcelain bus when she got home.
(The euphemism tones down the unpleasant image of vomiting.)

According to legend, the famous bandit met his maker not during a shootout as was expected, but rather from a backward horse kick while he was polishing his spurs.
(The sentence includes a euphemism rather than saying the bandit was killed.)

Why We Use Euphemisms

You may have noticed how the euphemisms in our examples look to lighten the original ideas. Although euphemisms aren’t always associated with what is disagreeable, they do tend to be used in contexts or situations in which people don’t want to address something directly. This is how euphemisms provide their primary function and value to us.

Some of our examples also show how the occasional euphemism can add color or humor to writing. The key is to not make them too obvious by overusing or becoming dependent on them.

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