Euphemism Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 21, 2011


This lesson focuses on euphemisms, words that we use to avoid using other words.

A euphemism is a substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one that might be thought offensive, harsh, or too blunt. This might suggest that speakers and writers use euphemisms merely to display good manners, but euphemisms are used for other reasons, not all of which are honest attempts to be more polite or avoid offending anyone.

Euphemisms are often used

  • to avoid speaking directly about something one fears,
  • to avoid speaking the truth; using double talk to hide one's real meaning,
  • to avoid naming a person or thing, using a synonym in order to appear innocent of slander,
  • to avoid naming something considered taboo (unacceptable, forbidden in polite society),
  • to avoid repeating the same name or idea, as a name-calling device in political or social issue debates,
  • to avoid revealing a secret or allowing others to overhear a name (frequently used in spy novels and movies),
  • to avoid too much seriousness and make light of a difficult situation.

How Will Euphemisms Build Your Word Power?

As you know, the best way to increase your vocabulary is to read—this book and anything and everything else! Additionally, listen carefully to everything you hear—on the radio and TV, in conversations with friends, parents, and teachers. You'll pick up lots of new words to help increase your vocabulary. You'll soon be acquiring new words unconsciously, without using flash cards or study lists or even thinking about it!

Listening for euphemisms also increases your vocabulary and your sensitivity to word meanings. As you notice euphemisms, you'll automatically sense the variations and nuances (small differences in meaning) in language that euphemisms employ. For example, if someone says they live in a working class neighborhood, you may guess that they don't live in the wealthiest, fanciest part of town. When someone says a neighborhood is in transition, what do you think they mean? What reality does the uphemism cover?


How do you know if a word or phrase is a euphemism or simply a synonym? Ask yourself what the motive was for choosing the word or words. Why this particular word? Does it hide some secret motive? If the answer is yes, then it's probably a euphemism.

Euphemisms aren't usually made up of difficult words, but are usually a sign that a sensitive or complicated idea is being simplified or covered up. The following is a list of some common euphemisms. As you read the list, write down other euphemisms you've heard.

Euphemisms About Death

This is the largest category of frequently used euphemisms, no doubt because death is so universally feared and so little understood.


    passed away; checked out; bit the Big One; kicked the bucket; bought the farm; pushing daisies; sleeping the Big Sleep; gone six feet under

Notice how all these phrases include a hint of humor to mask the seriousness of the subject they are refusing to acknowledge directly.

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