Euphemism | Definition, Meaning & Examples

Rhetoric updated on  March 22, 2024 3 min read

A euphemism is an expression that is used in place of words or phrases that may be considered embarrassing or unpleasant. For example, “kick the bucket” is a euphemism for “die.”

Euphemisms are used to discuss taboo topics in a more careful and less abrasive way, whether it be to appeal to an audience or adhere to personal beliefs. Many people who don’t like to use profanity use euphemisms instead (e.g., “heck”).

Euphemism examples
She is between jobs. [She is unemployed]
Dang it, that was close! [Damn it]
Could I interest you in an adult beverage? [Alcoholic drink]

Euphemism definition

“Euphemism” is defined as “an indirect word or phrase used to refer to something that may be viewed as offensive or unpleasant.”

Euphemisms use figurative language to discuss potentially taboo subjects in mild and inoffensive ways. They can be used to replace profanity and sexually suggestive language, but they can also be used to substitute topics that are not as crude but still considered sensitive (e.g., “senior citizen” when referring to an older person).

The word “euphemism” was derived from the Greek word euphemismos, which in turn was derived from euphēmizein, meaning “speak with fair words” or “use words of good omen.” “Eu” is a prefix that means “good” or “well,” while “phēmē” means “utterance” or “speech.”

Euphemism examples

There are several reasons why someone might employ euphemisms, including to avoid directly referencing something that is deemed negative or to downplay the scale of something serious. Many writers also employ euphemisms as a rhetorical device that adds a layer of politeness, humor, or irony to a situation.

Euphemisms for death

Death is a sensitive topic, especially for those who are grieving. Euphemisms make it possible to discuss death in a more sensitive and compassionate manner.

Euphemism examples for death
My grandpa passed away last week.
My dog was my best friend; sadly, she is no longer with us.
He is gone and has moved on to a better place.

Euphemisms for stupid

Calling something or someone “stupid” can be seen as coarse or rude, so people often use euphemisms instead.

Euphemism examples for stupid
My niece is a few peas short of a casserole.
Howard is a dim bulb who doesn’t know the difference between left and right.
She’s an airhead, but she’s always been nice to me.

Euphemisms for quit

Sometimes, simply saying “I quit” can be looked at negatively by both the audience and the speaker. Using a euphemism can soften the harshness of having to quit.

Euphemism examples for quit
I’m throwing in the towel, but it’s been fun.
The CEO stepped down from her position.
After ten years on the team, my brother is finally hanging it up.

Euphemisms for curse words

People regularly use euphemisms in place of profanity or other terms they consider inappropriate. Euphemisms help express frustration, anger, disappointment, or surprise in a more socially acceptable manner.

Some examples below contain grawlix, which refers to a string of unpronounceable punctuation that replaces curse words in text.

Euphemism examples for curse words
Darn or dang (instead of “damn”)
Fudge or frick (instead of the stronger f-word, “f*#k”)
Gosh (instead of “God”)
Heck (instead of “hell”)
Jeez (instead of “Jesus,” to avoid religious connotations)
Shoot or sheesh (instead of the stronger s-word, “s*#t”)

Euphemism lists

If you want a list of common euphemisms, click the button below.

How to use euphemism in a sentence

When using the word “euphemism” in a sentence, remember that it is a noun that refers to the indirect word or phrase that replaces another embarrassing, unpleasant, or negative one.

Euphemism in a sentence examples

I was taught to use the euphemism “let go” instead of “fired” to be less harsh.

She preferred to use the euphemism “expecting” for “pregnant.”

When I was learning English, I had to take extra time to learn what certain euphemisms meant.

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Do you want to know more about idioms, reasoning, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


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Ad populum fallacy

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Mixed metaphor


Frequently asked questions about euphemism

How long does it take a euphemism to develop a connotation?

There is no set time frame for how long it takes a euphemism to become widely used. Like many other language-related evolutions, it can take decades for a euphemism to develop a connotation.

What does euphemistically mean?

“Euphemistically” is an adverb that modifies something to mean “in a way that is less embarrassing or unpleasant” (e.g., “He tried to give the bad news as euphemistically as possible”).

“Euphemistically” is closely related to the noun “euphemism.”

What does euphanism mean?

“Euphanism” is a common misspelling of the word “euphemism,” which is a figure of speech. It consists of replacing harsh language with something more pleasant or appropriate.

What does euphimism mean?

“Euphimism” is a common misspelling of the word “euphemism,” which is a figure of speech. It involves using inoffensive figurative language to replace more harsh language.

What does euphenism mean?

“Euphenism” is a misspelling of the word “euphemism,” which refers to figurative language that’s used to replace an unpleasant, inappropriate, or embarrassing word or phrase.

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Gina Rancano

Gina holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, as well as a certificate in professional and public writing from Florida International University. When she’s not writing, she spends her time reading.

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