euphemism

noun
eu·phe·mism | \ˈyü-fə-ˌmi-zəm \

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

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Other Words from euphemism

euphemist \ˈyü-fə-mist \ noun
euphemistic \ˌyü-fə-ˈmi-stik \ adjective
euphemistically \ˌyü-fə-ˈmi-sti-k(ə-)lē \ adverb

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.”

Did You Know?

Euphemism derives from the Greek word euphēmos, which means "auspicious" or "sounding good." The first part of "euphēmos" is the Greek prefix eu-, meaning "well." The second part is "phēmē," a Greek word for "speech" that is itself a derivative of the verb phanai, meaning "to speak." Among the numerous linguistic cousins of "euphemism" on the "eu-" side of the family are "eulogy," "euphoria," and "euthanasia"; on the "phanai" side, its kin include "prophet" and "aphasia" ("loss of the power to understand words").

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

And, no, hen isn’t a euphemism for a fertile female. Lorraine Ali, latimes.com, "About Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean bride auction redo and why people hate it and love it," 14 June 2018 White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied at her briefing later in the day, using a euphemism to refer to the president’s own lawyer. James Hohmann, Washington Post, "The Daily 202: Rudy Giuliani is repeating seven mistakes that brought down previous Trump advisers," 7 May 2018 At Bad Saint, dinuguan has become one of the best-selling dishes, without the veil of euphemism. Ligaya Mishan, New York Times, "Filipino Food Finds a Place in the American Mainstream," 12 Mar. 2018 Unscripted series - Hollywood's euphemism for reality TV - are also on the table. The Washington Post, NOLA.com, "Barack and Michelle Obama going into the Netflix business, signing multi-year production deal," 22 May 2018 The New York Times is famously prudish, preferring whenever possible to use euphemisms. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "Marco Rubio doesn’t like it when people report other people using the F-bomb.," 29 June 2018 But unlike Crowley, Ocasio-Cortez was not locked, Hillary-style, into corporate donors and didn’t settle for cautious euphemisms in making her case. Frank Rich, Daily Intelligencer, "Rot on the Right, Green Shoots on the Left," 28 June 2018 Most people simply point at their body parts or use euphemisms, says Nandar, a local activist who translates feminist literature. The Economist, "In Myanmar, sex education comes from smartphones," 21 June 2018 Gone are the constant cravings and father figure euphemisms; coyness is unnecessary. Jason Parham, WIRED, "A New Age of Queer Pop Is Here—And Artists Want to Talk," 22 June 2018

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

Greek euphēmismos, from euphēmos auspicious, sounding good, from eu- + phēmē speech, from phanai to speak — more at ban

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Dictionary Entries near euphemism

euphausiid

euphemious

euphemise

euphemism

euphemize

euphenics

euphone

Statistics for euphemism

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Time Traveler for euphemism

The first known use of euphemism was circa 1681

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More Definitions for euphemism

euphemism

noun

English Language Learners Definition of euphemism

: a mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive

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