Skip to main content
Select Source:

EUPHEMISM

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.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"EUPHEMISM." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"EUPHEMISM." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/euphemism

"EUPHEMISM." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved May 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/euphemism

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

euphemism

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’.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"euphemism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"euphemism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/euphemism

"euphemism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved May 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/euphemism

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

euphemism

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.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"euphemism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"euphemism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/euphemism-0

"euphemism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved May 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/euphemism-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

euphemism

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

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"euphemism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"euphemism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/euphemism-1

"euphemism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved May 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/euphemism-1

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.