euphemism

noun

eu·​phe·​mism ˈyü-fə-ˌmi-zəm How to pronounce euphemism (audio)
: the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant
also : the expression so substituted
euphemist noun
euphemistic adjective
euphemistically adverb

Did you know?

Euphemism comes from Greek eúphēmos, which means "uttering sounds of good omen," "fair-sounding," or "auspicious." The first part of that root is the prefix eu-, meaning "good."  The second part is phēmos, a Greek word for "speech."

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How and Why We Use Euphemisms

Euphemisms can take different forms, but they all involve substituting a word or phrase considered to be less offensive than another. The substituted word might, for example, be viewed as a less coarse choice, as when dang or darn is used instead of damn or damned. Or it might replace a word viewed as insulting to a religious figure, such as the various euphemisms for God (gad, gadzooks, gosh) or Jesus (gee, jeepers, jeez). A euphemism may also consist of an indirect softening phrase that is substituted for the straightforward naming of something unpalatable. Thus, we hear of people being “let go” rather than “fired”; civilians killed in war described as “collateral damage”; or someone who has died having “kicked the bucket,” “passed away, “given up the ghost,” or “joined one’s ancestors.”

Examples of euphemism in a Sentence

Cougar is the euphemism for a woman who has reached mid-life, who is single, financially secure and on the lookout for relationships with younger men—as in "prey." Kerry Gold, Vancouver Sun, 17 Feb. 2001
Spin is sometimes dismissed as a simple euphemism for lying. But it's actually something more insidious: indifference to the truth. Michael Kinsley, Time, 25 Dec. 2000–1 Jan. 2001
"Invigorating" is the euphemism we use most often to describe the chilly waters off the coast, but knowledgeable Maine boaters know where to find the warmer, tidal waters just right for a midsummer dip. Ken Textor, Down East, August 2001
If you are "let go," "separated," "terminated" or whatever euphemism the company uses for "clean-out-your-desk-and-be-gone," remember that you do have rights. Elsie Maclay, First for Women, July 1989
using “eliminate” as a euphemism for “kill”
Recent Examples on the Web There has been lots of talk about the market softening or losing its froth, euphemisms to say that people aren’t buying as much as even a few months ago. Daniel Cassady, ARTnews.com, 13 June 2024 Any candor was covered in layers of jargon and euphemism. Kevin Rennie, Hartford Courant, 7 June 2024 That’s not a euphemism; Gemma is both alive and most seriously displeased with the entire situation. Sophie Brookover, Vulture, 16 May 2024 In a year, the Russian military has elevated the role of the nuclear arsenal and doubled down on its conceptualization of strategic deterrence—a Russian euphemism for nuclear and nonnuclear coercion. Dmitry Adamsky, Foreign Affairs, 19 May 2023 See all Example Sentences for euphemism 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'euphemism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

borrowed from Medieval Latin euphēmismus, borrowed from Greek euphēmismós "substitution of an auspicious word for an inauspicious one," from euphēmízesthai "to use words of good omen" (from eúphēmos "uttering sounds of good omen, fair-sounding, auspicious" + -izesthai, middle voice of -izein -ize) + -ismos -ism; eúphēmos from eu- eu- + -phēmos, nominal derivative, with a suffixal -m-, from the base of phēmí, phánai "to say, speak" — more at ban entry 1

First Known Use

circa 1681, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of euphemism was circa 1681

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Dictionary Entries Near euphemism

Cite this Entry

“Euphemism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/euphemism. Accessed 19 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

euphemism

noun
eu·​phe·​mism ˈyü-fə-ˌmiz-əm How to pronounce euphemism (audio)
: the substitution of a mild or pleasant expression for one that is too strong or unpleasant
also : a mild or pleasant expression so substituted
"pass away" is a widely used euphemism for die
euphemistic adjective
euphemistically adverb
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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