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. 2001Spin 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 2001If 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”
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.