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EUPHEMISMS


Euphemism describes a polite, agreeable, or inoffensive word or expression that is used in place of one that is harsh, rude, or offensive. Also, pleasant or inoffensive language used to soften or mask upsetting truths (e.g., to pass on instead of to die). All of us use euphemisms. Because they are so much a part of us, it can be difficult to get through an entire day without using them. Many add a note of humor. Some are simply ridiculous. As writers, we must be careful when using euphemisms for they can get in the way of effective communication. They often distort or conceal.

Euphemisms can be positive or negative. Positive euphemisms include imposing job titles adopted to bolster one's self-image or impress one's friends and acquaintances. Examples of these include counsel in place of lawyer, health care professional for nurse or doctor, chief executive officer instead of president or chairman of the board, and territory manager instead of salesman.

Negative euphemisms deflate and diminish. They replace language that people prefer to avoid using. Examples include harvesting in place of killing, collateral damage instead of civilian casualties or deaths, relationship for sexual relationship, and intestinal fortitude in place of guts.

Many of our euphemisms arose during a period when it was considered offensive to mention body parts or subjects that related to sex, body wastes, or other topics that could conjure up unpleasant or unsettling images. Thus, "private" meaning "private parts" eliminated the need to use the correct name for male or female genitals. Similarly, other terms evolved to mask a broad range of matters directly or indirectly relating to sexual intercourse.

Today's armed forces are notable for their use of language that is intended to depersonalize and soften descriptions of matters or activities related to war and killing. By avoiding words that more accurately convey the real nature of plans or events, the military attempts to avoid triggering unpleasant mental images in the minds of the public and risking a loss of public support.

The enthusiastic adoption in recent years of what is euphemistically termed political correctness has been responsible for creating many euphemisms. Similarly, many occupational fields, such as social work, nursing, and medicine, have spawned new terms that effectively mask or change the meaning of those that they replace. Here is a selection of commonly used euphemisms.

  • Administrative Assistant - an important sounding name for secretary
  • take under advisement - a pompous term for consider
  • air support - a more pleasant sounding term for bombing and strafing
  • altogether - naked
  • expecting - pregnant. The term replaces the connection to impregnate with expect.
  • antipersonnel weapon - any weapon designed to kill people.
  • appropriate - seize, steal A term that removes any guilt or disgrace for wrongdoing.
  • athletic supporter - jock strap. The neutral term removes any imagery conjured up by jock strap or locker room.
  • author - writer
  • body count - dead body count. An inoffensive term for the number of deaths suffered
  • break off hostilities (or contact from the enemy) - retreat The euphemism removes any shame or disgrace.
  • bust - breasts
  • buttocks - ass
  • buxom - big-breasted
  • call girl - a whore who makes customer appointments by telephone
  • capital punishment - an impersonal term for execution
  • carnal knowledge - sexual intercourse
  • casualty - victim
  • come - to achieve sexual orgasm
  • comfort station - public toilet
  • confidential source - an informer
  • consultant - an advisor
  • correctional facility - prison
  • covert operation - burglary, assassination, or any illegal operation carried out surreptitiously
  • custodian - janitor
  • deep six - to destroy evidence
  • deliver ordnance - drop bombs (on) or fire missiles (at)
  • dentures - false teeth
  • derriere - ass, rear end (French word for behind)
  • detainee - a term that differs in meaning from what it replaces, namely prisoner
  • disadvantaged - poor. This politically correct term removes any need for personal responsibility for finding oneself in that state.
  • dispatch - kill
  • downward adjustment - corporate doubletalk for a reduction
  • droppings - animal dung
  • Dutch treat - hardly a treat as it means that each pays his or her share
  • effluent - sewage
  • erratum - a term for error. It is used by those who find it difficult to admit that their work contains errors.
  • erroneous report - doubletalk for a lie
  • euthanize - kill (a person who is sick, senile, etc.)
  • expire - to die
  • extramarital - adulterous
  • fabrication - a lie
  • family jewels - testicles
  • family way (in a) - pregnant
  • flight attendant - a politically correct for what was formerly stewardess
  • foundation garment - a girdle or corset
  • free world - All friends of the United States
  • friendly fire - a military term to denote an attack on oneself or one's forces by one's own forces or allies
  • gay - a word that has been hijacked to mean homosexual
  • golden years - old age
  • halitosis - bad breath
  • handyman's special - a word in real estate for a house that is in great need of repair
  • harvest - kill, a word used in the context of killing seals, whales, or other mammals. It minimizes ages and any sense of guilt
  • head - a yachting or boating term for toilet
  • homemaker - housewife
  • homicide - murder
  • hooker - prostitute
  • hung - an adjective used to describe a male who has large genitals
  • Imbibe - to drink (alcohol)
  • indisposed - sick
  • inoperative - false. A statement that is inoperative is a lie.
  • journalist - a newspaper or magazine reporter
  • liberate - often used with a straight face for conquer
  • lingerie - women's underwear
  • little boys' room - toilet
  • loss - death. A term used in reference to the death of someone who was close
  • love child - bastard
  • make love - engage in sexual intercourse
  • master - an over-the-hill athlete. In swimming, this refers to swimmers engaging in programs designed for those of age twenty-fiveor greater.
  • meaningful dialogue - conversation
  • member - penis
  • mixed breed - mongrel
  • mobile home - trailer
  • molest - to assault sexually
  • monument - tombstone or other grave marker
  • mutilated - castrated
  • night soil - human excrement
  • not doing well - dying
  • nurse - to suckle
  • open marriage - open adultery. A term that puts monogamists on the defensive
  • optional swimsuit area - nude beach
  • outhouse - outdoor toilet
  • outplacement - finding a job for the employee for the fired employee
  • over flight - an illegal flight into the airspace of another country
  • paramour - an illicit lover
  • partner - sexual partner. One who lives with another as unmarried spouse
  • pass away - to die
  • pass water - to urinate
  • period - menstrual period
  • plausible denial - official lying
  • police action - a war not sanctioned by Congress
  • pre-emptive strike - a surprise (sneak) attack
  • prevaricate - to lie
  • previously owned - second hand, used.
  • private parts - the male or female genitals
  • privy - outdoor toilet
  • pro-choice - pro-abortion
  • prosthesis - an artificial hand, leg, or other human part
  • public relations - activities designed to elicit a favorable public attitude towards a corporation, institution, product, or service
  • put down/put to sleep - to kill (an animal)
  • reconnaissance in force - search and destroy
  • remains - a dead body
  • reverse engineering - corporate doubletalk for copy
  • rubber - condom
  • sacrifice - to kill in the name of science or religion, etc. (e.g., to sacrifice laboratory animals)
  • sanitize - to destroy evidence
  • secure facility - an escape-proof jail or prison
  • see a man about a dog - to go to the toilet
  • senior citizen - old person
  • sensitive - secret. A term applied to documents, often those that constitute evidence of wrong doing
  • sexually explicit - pornographic
  • sight-deprived - blind
  • slack fill - corporate doubletalk for partially empty
  • social disease - venereal disease
  • source of information - informant or spy
  • special - handicapped
  • stonewall - to obstruct justice. To admit nothing, deny, cover up
  • surreptitious entry - an illegal break-in
  • surveillance - spying
  • sweetbread - the inner organs of an animal when presented as human food
  • swinging - promiscuity characterized by wife-swapping or group sex, etc.
  • technical surveillance - wiretapping
  • triage - the process of deciding whom to help and whom to ignore. The prioritizing of patients on the basis of probability of favorable outcomes
  • washroom - toilet
  • white lie - a lie, although supposedly harmless
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© G.A. Robinson 2002-2018