Education & Training

Commonly Used Euphemisms In English Language

by Dr. Shanthi Thomas

A euphemism is a polite and inoffensive expression used to replace one that could be considered embarrassing, vulgar, unpleasant or offensive. The English language employs many euphemisms to avoid embarrassment and unpleasantness in communication. Read on to find the most commonly used euphemisms in the English language.

1. Euphemisms for ‘death’

Death, the inevitable reality of life, is a difficult topic to discuss, especially at a personal level. Therefore, ‘being dead’ is very often couched in many euphemisms such as

  • deceased
  • bit the dust
  • entered eternal life
  • passed away
  • laid down his life
  • called to our Lord
  • breathed his last
  • met his maker
  • kick the bucket

2. Euphemisms for disabilities

Disabilities such as blindness or deafness are considered too impolite to be directly remarked upon. Therefore such disabilities are expressed using euphemisms such as

  • Aurally challenged (somewhat deaf)
  • Hearing impaired (totally deaf)
  • Visually impaired (blind)
  • Differently abled (someone with any kind of disability)
  • mentally challenged (mentally ill)
  • intellectually challenged (stupid)
  • vertically challenged (short)
  • horizontally challenged (fat)
  • big-boned (fat)

3. Euphemisms for the embarrassing facts of life

These are euphemisms for facts of life that everyone knows and goes through but would be too embarrassed to talk about directly, such as

  • Butt burp (fart)
  • Break wind (fart)
  • a little thin on top (baldness)
  • do your business (defecate)
  • lost his marbles (suffered from mental illness)
  • squeeze the lemon (go to the washroom)
  • lose your lunch (vomit)
  • brown trousers (defecate because of fear)

4. Euphemisms for ‘idiot’

No one wants to be referred to as an idiot. Therefore, many interesting euphemisms have taken the place of this offensive word.

  • Lights not burning too bright
  • A brick short of a load
  • Dumb as a door knob
  • Not the sharpest pencil in the box
  • Got a leak in his think tank
  • A beer short of a six pack
  • A few sandwiches short of a picnic
  • Informationally deprived

5. Euphemisms for the misfortunes of life

Many misfortunes might befall a human life, and one may not want to talk about them directly.

  • between jobs (unemployed)
  • on the streets (homeless)
  • made redundant (lost his job)
  • let you go (fire you)
  • be on gardening leave (be unemployed)

6. Euphemisms for ‘war’

War and other conflicts are very unpleasant and destructive. It is no wonder that many of the aspects of war are referred to using euphemisms. Generally you find these words in newspaper reports of war.

  • Collateral damage (When an attack causes large scale loss of lives of innocent people and damages hospitals, schools etc.)
  • Armed intervention (military attack)
  • Extraordinary rendition (army takes a person away without going through the legal channels)
  • Friendly fire (army kills people on its own side accidentally)
  • Acceptable loss (minor destruction in war)
  • Enhanced interrogation techniques (torture)
  • Forced disappearance (abduction)
  • Tactical retreat (accepting defeat with your head high)
  • Make the ultimate sacrifice (Lose your life, especially in war)

7. Euphemisms for negative experiences of life

Life hands out many negative experiences which are very unpleasant or hurtful to talk about directly. Hence we have euphemisms such as

  • Sent to a correctional facility (imprisoned)
  • Temporary negative cash flow (broke)
  • Being economical with the truth (lying)
  • Categorical inaccuracy (lie)
  • Correctional centre (prison)
  • Settle an account (Pay money that’s owed)
  • Outstanding balance (Money owed)
  • Substandard living (Poverty)
  • terminological inexactitude (lie)

8. Euphemisms for difficult or immodest topics

Finally, there are euphemisms used to discuss difficult and immodest topics.

  • adult entertainment (sex-related activities)
  • making out (kissing)
  • pre-owned/ pre-loved (pre-used, second-hand)
  • four letter words (words used in swearing, or considered profane)
  • sanitation engineer (waste collector)
  • sanitary landfill (a place for dumping waste material)
  • adult content (pornography)
  • be economical with the truth (tell a lie)
  • The birds and the bees (Reproduction)
  • Substance abuse problem (Drug addiction)
  • Sleep around (Be promiscuous)
  • Leave a lot to be desired – (be badly executed (of an action or task))
  • Getting on (Old and growing even older)
  • Feeding the sewer (Pooping)
  • Fall off the wagon (Go back to drinking or using drugs)
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