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

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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.”

Example Sentences

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 And yet, the topic largely remains undiscussed, relegated to euphemism, hushed tones, and complex semantics. Hanna Krueger,, 17 May 2023 His names are crisp, like Sunset Harkless (a man) and Spinifer Black (a spear), and his compact euphemisms a gift. Giri Nathan, New York Times, 28 Apr. 2023 That’s the Fed’s euphemism for saying more people are getting laid off from their jobs or employers aren’t hiring as many workers. Elisabeth Buchwald, CNN, 3 May 2023 Feelings are sublimated, details are discussed only in euphemism. Michael O'sullivan, Washington Post, 25 Apr. 2023 That last phrase was an artful euphemism. Barton Swaim, WSJ, 23 Sep. 2022 Alison’s absence works as a euphemism. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, 12 May 2022 In short order, Melchor has established a few clear themes in her work: The way misogyny, violence and the drug trade are braided; how fear forces bystanders to watch their words; and how the resulting euphemisms and silences create a kind of folklore around a place. Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times, 4 Apr. 2023 But euphemisms can often sound foolish and inaccurate. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 24 Mar. 2023 See More

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


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


Dictionary Entries Near euphemism

Cite this Entry

“Euphemism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


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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