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

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

Using euphemisms to cover for atrocities is the essence of the banality of evil. Anna Lind-guzik, Vox, "I’m a Jewish historian. Yes, we should call border detention centers “concentration camps.”," 20 June 2019 Contrary to popular belief, National Rosé Day is not just a euphemism for every single day, all summer long., "The Best Ways To Celebrate National Rosé Day In NYC," 1 June 2018 This is done under the euphemism of economic development. WSJ, "Good for Amazon, Good for Local Taxpayers?," 18 Nov. 2018 Though that sounds like a euphemism, the field of medical genetics conducted itself as if toxic information was a literal phenomenon for years, and many in the field still do. Rob Reid, Ars Technica, "Ars on your lunch break: Robert Green on what darkness lurks in our DNA," 17 July 2018 Death until recently was often a conversational taboo, dark fodder for goth sites, maybe, but otherwise invoked discreetly, if at all, in spirit-soothing euphemisms. Ruth La Ferla, New York Times, "Outing Death," 10 Jan. 2018 And, no, hen isn’t a euphemism for a fertile female. Lorraine Ali,, "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

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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Statistics for euphemism

Last Updated

15 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for euphemism

The first known use of euphemism was circa 1681

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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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Comments on euphemism

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