Euphemism: definition, features and famous examples


Euphemism is a figure of speech by means of which a harsh or disagreeable is statement is expressed indirectly in an agreeable and pleasant manner.

Etymologically, euphemism means speaking well or favourably. The word has come from the Greek compound eu ‘well’, ‘favourably’) and ‘phemi’ (“I speak’). In place of the blunt expression for something offensive, unpleasant and terrifying, this offers rather indirectly, something sparing and pleasing.

The purpose of the speaker is to spare one’s feeling. In this figure, the speaker is round-about in his expression. But, in this case, his purpose is not to hurt somebody, but to express unpleasant ideas or matters in a pleasant or agreeable manner.

The essential features:

(i) A harsh or disagreeable expression is made agreeable and pleasant in an indirect way.

(ii) The purpose is to spare one’s feelings.

Examples :

(i) The bank has stopped payment.
This is Euphemism.

Here the hard fact that the bankers have become bankrupt’ is expressed indirectly and in an agreeable manner by the expression ‘has stopped payment’. The purpose of the speaker is, of course, to spare the feeling of his listener.

(ii) They dropped down one by one. -Coleridge
This is an instance of the figure of speech, Euphemism.

Here the poet wants to say they died’. This is a harsh fact. He softens it down and makes it agreeable by the indirect statement ‘dropped down’. The purpose here is, of course, to spare the listener or reader from a hard or harsh fact.

Some More Examples :

(i) The knave came somewhat saucily into the world. –Shakespeare

(The hard fact that he was born illegitimately is softened down by the indirect expression, ‘came …

(ii) Discord fell on the brain of the young man after that rude shock of life.
(The hard fact that the young man became mad is softened down by
the agreeable expression, discord….man’.)

iii) The old lady, at last, breathed her last (died, the hard fact indirectly softened down).

There are many common examples of euphemism used in everyday conversation and writing

  • porcelain throne (toilet)
  • friends with benefits (friends having sex)
  • bun in the oven (pregnancy)
  • number two (defecation)
  • roll in the hay (have sex)
  • see a man about a horse (go to the bathroom)
  • senior (old)
  • economically challenged (poor)
  • put to sleep (euthanize)
  • between jobs (unemployed)
  • big-boned (overweight)
  • blowing smoke (lying)

Also read: What is Limerick and its examples

Also read: Zeugma: definition and examples