views updated Jun 11 2018

EUPHEMISM. In RHETORIC, (the use of) a mild, comforting, or evasive expression that takes the place of one that is taboo, negative, offensive, or too direct: Gosh God, terminate kill, sleep with have sex with, pass water, relieve oneself urinate. Official euphemisms can be circuitous and formulaic, as in the British announcement a man is helping the police with their inquiries, meaning ‘a man has been detained by the police and may soon be charged’.

Arbiters of usage are generally severe on euphemism. Ronald Ridout and Clifford Witting in the UK (The Facts of English, 1964) claim that people ‘commit a euphemism’ when trying to hide something unpleasant, or when using a mild and indirect term: ‘It is prudery or a false sense of refinement that causes us to use paying guest for boarder or lodger.’ Fowler (Modern English Usage, ed. Gowers, 1965) notes: ‘Its value is notorious in totalitarian countries, where assassination and aggression can be made to look respectable by calling them liquidation and liberation.’ The US critic Joseph T. Shipley (Dictionary of World Literary Terms, 1977) considers euphemism ‘the bane of much writing in the 20th c., esp. in the jargon language of sociologists, educationists and bureaucrats’. The US journalist Hugh Rawson, however, responds to euphemism as ‘society's basic lingua non franca … outward and visible signs of our inward anxieties, conflicts, fears, and shames’, and adds:
They cover up the facts of life—of sex and reproduction and excretion—which inevitably remind even the most refined people that they are made of clay, or worse. They are beloved by individuals and institutions (governments especially) who are anxious to present only the handsomest possible images of themselves to the world. And they are embedded so deeply in our language that few of us, even those who pride themselves on being plainspoken, ever get through a day without using them (A Dictionary of Euphemisms & Other Doubletalk, 1981).Because of its genteel associations, the term has itself been used euphemistically. In Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1964), a guest has said that she would like to powder her nose. George responds with: ‘Martha, won't you show her where we keep the euphemism?’ See, DYSPHEMISM, GENTEELISM, JARGON, MINCED OATH.


views updated May 23 2018

euphemism XVII. — Gr. euphēmismós, f. euphēmízein speak fair, f. eúphēmos fair of speech, f. EU- + phḗmḗ speaking; see FAME, -ISM.
So euphemistic XIX.


views updated May 29 2018

eu·phe·mism / ˈyoōfəˌmizəm/ • n. a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing: “downsizing” as a euphemism for cuts.


views updated May 14 2018

euphemism a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. The word is recorded from the late 16th century, and comes from Greek euphēmismos, from euphēmizein ‘use auspicious words’.