What is a Euphemism? Definition, Examples of Euphemisms in Literature

Euphemism definition: A euphemism is a literary and rhetorical term that refers to a word or phrase that makes another word or phrase less harsh. A euphemism is a substitute of a harsh term for a milder term.

What is a Euphemism?

What does euphemism mean? Euphemism is a literary and rhetorical term that refers to a word or term that makes another word or term less harsh.

A euphemism is a substitute of a harsh term for a milder one.

The root of the term euphemism is “eu” which means “good” in Greek. A euphemism replaces a “bad” term with a “good” one.

Euphemism Examples:

  • “to pass away” for “to die”
  • “his passing” for “his death”

Euphamism and Euphenism and Euphanism and EuphimismThis is one of the most prevalent examples of a euphemism. “Die” and “death” are harsh terms that most people find uncomfortable. Replacing them with euphemisms makes the events seem less harsh.

Modern Examples of Euphemism

Examples of euphemism: Euphemisms are present in common vernacular.

A euphemism that pervades media and language is “to sleep with” to replace “intercourse” or “sexual activity.”

“Sleeping with” someone is a term that is more accepted than the latter. It is less harsh and more appropriate in most everyday conversation.

Euphism and Euphamisms“Letting someone go” replaces “firing someone” frequently. This is another modern example of euphemism. “Firing someone” sounds offensive and insulting; “letting someone go” is a kinder approach to the situation.

“Downsizing” is another example of euphemistic language for a company firing its employees. This could be due to a company-wide restructuring or a loss of revenue.

  • Evans said that, behind closed doors, Walmart officials were more frank about the reasons the company was downsizing. –The Washington Post

The Function of Euphemism

Euphemisms definition versus Euphemism literary definitionHow is euphemism used? Knowing euphemisms is beneficial, especially when considering your audience.

The ultimate goal of a writer is to communicate his argument to his audience. In order to do so, he must use appropriate word choice. This is where euphemism comes into play.

A euphemism is not the “easy way out;” rather, it is a way we communicate in order to meet the needs of our audience. We are showing sensitivity and consideration when we use euphemism, especially when we do not know the audience’s position or comfort level.

How to Create Euphemism in Your Text

When considering incorporating a euphemism into your writing, first evaluate your audience.

If you believe that your target audience will be offended by a particular term, consider using a euphemism as an alternative.

When you are writing, you have an argument. That is, no matter what you write, you have something that you are trying to “prove” to your audience. Whether fiction or non-fiction, every writer has a purpose he is trying to communicate.

Considering this, each word must be carefully crafted to try to persuade the audience. This is where euphemism may benefit the writer’s argument.

Euphemism Examples in Literature

Euphemistic definitionWhat is euphemism in literature? Because of the delicate nature of the subject, sexual behavior is often euphemized in text.

Shakespeare is known for doing this well. Often he will include a euphemism as a “dirty joke” or as a way to imply sexual behaviors.

In the play Othello, Iago states to Brabantio in Act I:

“I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now

making the beast with two backs.”

“The beast with two backs” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Since Iago was speaking to Desdemona’s (“your daughter”) father in this scene, Shakespeare chose euphemistic diction to lighten the blow of the news.

Brabantio is a senator, and would not approve of his daughter “making the beast with two backs” with a Moor. The euphemism is a way for Iago to explain the news without being too graphic.

Summary: What is Euphemism?

Define euphemism: the definition of euphemism is a word or phrase that replaces harsh terms for milder ones.

Euphemisms are used daily to discuss delicate or sensitive subjects. A writer may choose to use euphemism when considering his audience.

A few common euphemisms are “pass away” when referring to death and “downsizing” for job cuts.