eu·​phe·​mism | \ ˈyü-fə-ˌmi-zəm How to pronounce euphemism (audio) \

Essential Meaning of euphemism

: a mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive using "eliminate" as a euphemism for "kill"

Full Definition of euphemism

: the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant also : the expression so substituted

Other Words from euphemism

euphemist \ ˈyü-​fə-​mist How to pronounce euphemism (audio) \ noun
euphemistic \ ˌyü-​fə-​ˈmi-​stik How to pronounce euphemism (audio) \ adjective
euphemistically \ ˌyü-​fə-​ˈmi-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce euphemism (audio) \ 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."

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”
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Recent Examples on the Web Organization is the big thing to Davis, and organization is a euphemism for the managing owner. San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Jan. 2022 Parental choice is the new euphemism for personal freedom. Zachary B. Wolf, CNN, 12 Oct. 2021 And just like a real animal, if ignored, a Tamagotchi would die—triggering a tombstone in Japanese versions of the game, or a euphemism about returning to its home planet for Americans. Michelle Delgado, Smithsonian Magazine, 22 Dec. 2021 Its register hovers between Victorian euphemism and startling intimacy. The New Yorker, 4 Oct. 2021 Which is just a euphemism for mistakes, as the Lions, bless their hearts, keep finding ways to make them at the worst possible moment. Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press, 25 Oct. 2021 One of Katy Perry's recent Instagram posts shows the singer wearing hair tinsel, a euphemism for multi-colored strings that are interlaced throughout the singer's dark brown hair. Sara Miranda, Allure, 2 Dec. 2021 That’s probably a clever euphemism for the multiverse versions of Spider-Man. Chris Smith, BGR, 27 Oct. 2021 How did this obscure term—little used in the Middle Ages themselves—become a modern phrase meaning both a medieval period in early England and a euphemism for whiteness? Mary Rambaran-olm And Erik Wade, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 July 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'euphemism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of euphemism

circa 1681, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for euphemism

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

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The first known use of euphemism was circa 1681

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Last Updated

16 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Euphemism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Jan. 2022.

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