A euphemism is a softer or less direct expression that has been substituted for an unpleasant, rude, or offensive term.
- “Passed away” or “in a better place” for “died”
- Euphemisms almost always take the form of stock expressions or widely recognized phrases.
- “Let go” for “fired” or “collateral damage” for civilian casualties
- A true euphemism is recognizable without context; no matter what the surrounding words are, everyone will know what you mean.
- “The discomfort of the three-hour dental procedure was difficult to forget.”
- Be careful not to confuse all polite or gentle word choice with euphemisms. For example, while a construction like this is certainly a mild way of expressing the idea that you had a painful and protracted dental experience you can still vividly recall, it isn’t a euphemism—it’s simple understatement. In order for an understatement to be a euphemism, the substitution must be recognizable regardless of the context. Here, though you could make the case that “discomfort” is a substitution for “pain” and “difficult to forget” is standing in place of “traumatic,” it’s only the context of this sentence that helps you know what the speaker really means.
Explore all literary terms.