Euphemisms

A euphemism /ˈjuːfəˌmɪzəmis a mild or less direct word or phrase that people use to refer to something embarrassing or unpleasant, sometimes to make it seem more acceptable than it is. Euphemisms often refer to death, war, age and sex.

EUPHEMISMS FOR DEATH

  • I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to him.
  • Her husband passed away recently.
  • He passed on in his sleep at the age of 80.
  • She had an amazing year before she passed.
  • Her grandmother is at peace.
  • After a long weary life Emily is at rest.
  • Sadly, she didn’t make it.
  • She’s gone to a better place.
  • If you don’t start eating properly, you’re going to fade away (lose your strength, become ill or die).
  • My wife is not with us anymore.
  • Both his parents are gone.

All the underlined vocabulary is polite and therefore appropriate for expressing condolences. For example:

I am so sorry that your grandmother passed away.

Please accept my deepest and heartfelt condolences on the loss of your friend. He is in a better place now.

I am so sorry Mary is not with us anymore. My heart goes out to you in your time of sorrow.

However, many euphemisms for death are not as polite as the ones above. The list below contains slang phrases, so please be careful with them. You shouldn’t use them in formal situations.

  • To bite the dust – to die: We were so lucky to avoid that massive accident – we might have bitten the dust!
  • To kick the bucket (humorous) – to die: We’ll all kick the bucket, it’s only a question of time.
  • To be pushing up (the) daisies (humorous) – to be dead: He wants to see me pushing up daisies just as badly as I want to see him do the same.
  • To croak (very informal) – to die: We both know I’m going to croak.
  • To be six feet under – to be dead and buried in the ground: You know where he is, six feet under.
  • To take a dirt nap (humorous) – to die: I’d be happy to take a dirt nap, but I have lots of things to do.
  • To check out – to die: Doctor, I’m not ready to check out yet.
  • To give up the ghost (humorous) – to die: Don’t give up the ghost here, OK?
  • To be on one’s last legs – to be very ill and not likely to live much longer: I knew I was on my last legs.

EUPHEMISMS FOR WAR

War is one of the most horrible things in the world. In fact, it may be the most horrible. So, it’s only natural that people often try to speak about it using euphemisms. Even so, they may sound rather heartless and cruel. Here are a few common phrases which are often used by people talking about various aspects of military conflicts:

  • Collateral damage – ordinary citizens who are killed during a war (the term is used especially by military officers): Most in the media will trumpet the wage-increase progress, not the hard-to-measure collateral damage.
  • Enhanced interrogation (techniques) – the practice of using techniques normally considered torture: People question the value of enhanced interrogation techniques.
  • Boots on the groundsoldiers who are on active duty and physically present during a combat operation: We need to get more boots on the ground if we want to win this fight.
  • Friendly firefire that injures or kills an ally: Is it true this was a friendly fire incident?
  • Border incident – an incident, usually fighting, on a border between countries: There was a serious border incident

EUPHEMISMS FOR AGE

Aging is a delicate subject, so use euphemistic vocabulary when appropriate. Remember that not all euphemisms are neutral. There are some which are rather informal:

  • Senior citizen – an old person who has retired or receives an old age pension: Senior citizens deserve to live a life of dignity. 
  • Elderly – old (polite): Responsibility for disabled or elderly members falls mainly on their families.
  • To be getting on – to be getting old (informal): My neighbor’s getting on a bit. She’s visually impaired and rather hard of hearing. (visually impaired and hard of hearing are euphemisms which mean having poor eyesight and unable to hear well correspondingly)
  • To be advanced in age/years (polite, formal) – to be old: He is rather advanced in age.
  • Be be of advanced age/years (polite, formal) – to be old: She is a woman of advanced years

Please note that although it’s polite to use elderly to describe someone old (e.g. an elderly lady), referring to all people of advanced age as the elderly can cause offense.

EUPHEMISMS FOR SEX

Although humanity wouldn’t exist without sex, there have always been situations requiring an indirect reference to the physical activity. Here are some common euphemisms for sex and getting/being pregnant:

  • The birds and the bees (humorous) – courtship and sexual intercourse. The birds and the bees talk (or simply the talk) is generally the event in most children’s lives in which the parents explain what sexual relationships are: Discussing sex and reproduction with a child for the first time can be an uncomfortable subject. But you still need to tell your kid about the birds and the bees
  • To do it (informal): My parents won’t be home next week, and I think we’ll finally do it
  • To get it on (informal): Let’s get it on (from the famous “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye).
  • To make love: One night, after 18 months of friendship, they made love for the first and last time.
  • To have a bun in the oven – to be pregnant (informal): You cannot drink alcohol when you have a bun in the oven
  • To be in the family way – to be pregnant (informal, old-fashioned): Her daughter is in the family way

Of course, there are many more euphemists for all kinds of negative things: health conditions (e.g. people with special needs (people who need special help or care, for example because they have a disability)), dismissing employees (e.g. there is more talk of downsizing at work (firing people to reduce costs)), limited intelligence (e.g. that guy is not exactly bright (he is stupid)), stealing (e.g. I’ve seen him helping himself to office stationary), etc.

Do you know any euphemisms which we haven’t covered? Please share your knowledge in the comments below. We appreciate your feedback!

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