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The purpose of the euphemism is to cover up an unpleasant reality by using words that do not call direct attention to the actual nature of the situation at hand. For example, people can say that a given person "passed away" in order to avoid thinking about death in too direct of a way. Likewise, the government may use the term "redaction" in order to avoid the political implications of the more direct term censorship.

What's a euphemism?

A euphemism is the substitution of a less offensive or agreeable expression for an expression that may offend or suggest something unpleasant. Euphemisms are polite, indirect expressions. A euphemism is often used in writing or speech to avoid a more harsh or blunt term. Euphemism is derived from the Greek euphēmismos, which means auspicious, sounding good. The literal meaning of euphemisms are sometimes lost in translation, but the more pleasant expression serves to mollify or pacify a readership who may be offended by the literal terms they are emulating.  Its first known use was circa 1681.

Examples of euphemisms

Euphemisms are often used in business, academic, scientific, healthcare, and political writing or speech in order to assuage the harshness the literal terms might inflict upon readers or listeners. There are many, many examples to choose from today, as politically correct writing and speaking is important to help communication flow freely between different social, ethnic, religious, cultural, and political groups.

Example one: “Kick the bucket” is a euphemism for “die.”

Example two: “Downsizing” is a euphemism for “firing” employees from a company.

Euphemisms are very culturally and ethnically dependent, as some terms may be acceptable in certain places, at certain times, or in certain conversations, while others may not be.

There are many methods of creating euphemisms, among them are abbreviations, words from another language, or indirect expressions. 

Example 1: “B.O.” is a euphemism for “body odor.”

Example 2: “Faux” is a euphemism for “fake,” used often in clothing marketing.

Example 3: “Unmentionables” is a euphemism for “underwear.”

More examples

Phrases using euphemisms are very common, and are often used to avoid saying something considered rude in everyday conversation. Some examples are listed below:

“She is in the family way,” meaning she is pregnant.

“The teacher always seemed tired and overly emotional,” meaning he was usually drunk or hungover.

An example from Shakespeare’s Othello demonstrates euphemism:

“I am one sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.” This phrase implies that the daughter and the Moor are having sexual relations.

Euphemism assists writers when they are conveying a socially taboo or embarrassing idea or topic. Choosing appropriate words for a certain situation, discussion, or readership is an important part of writing well. Euphemisms also allow writers to approach ideas from different angles, or through different viewpoints.

There is an ongoing debate about whether, when, and how euphemisms should be used in speech and writing. Euphemisms are very popular today in job titles, many of which are made more flowery and less specific in order to make them sound more important. While this is helpful for job candidates, it can be frustrating for those attempting to determine what the candidate is skilled in. Many companies and employees devise their own titles for common job positions, which may be very different from the same job position at another company. For example, writers may call themselves research paper writers to elevate the level of their work.

Some comedians, such as the late, great George Carlin are famous for their condemnation of euphemism use in American society. In his comedy routines, he points out the travels of language from simplicity to more complicated and possibly unnecessary language which serves only to conceal the initial literal meaning of the word or phrase. For example, the use of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, originally known as shell-shock, has since become yet another euphemism, PTSD.

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