Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. The act or an example of substituting a mild, indirect, or vague term for one considered harsh, blunt, or offensive: "Euphemisms such as 'slumber room' . . . abound in the funeral business” ( Jessica Mitford).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The use of a word or phrase to replace another with one that is considered less offensive, blunt or vulgar than the word or phrase it replaces.
  • n. A word or phrase that is used to replace another in this way.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A figure in which a harsh or indelicate word or expression is softened; a way of describing an offensive thing by an inoffensive expression; a mild name for something disagreeable.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In rhetoric, the use of a mild, delicate, or indirect word or expression in place of a plainer and more accurate one, which by reason of its meaning or its associations or suggestions might be offensive, unpleasant, or embarrassing.
  • n. A word or expression thus substituted: as, to employ a euphemism.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. an inoffensive or indirect expression that is substituted for one that is considered offensive or too harsh

Etymologies

Greek euphēmismos, from euphēmizein, to use auspicious words, from euphēmiā, use of auspicious words : eu-, eu- + phēmē, speech; see bhā-2 in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Recorded since 1656; from Ancient Greek εὐφημισμός (euphēmismos), from εὐφημίζω (euphēmizō), from εὔφημος (euphēmos, "uttering sound of good omen, abstaining from inauspicious words"), from εὖ (eu, "well") + φήμη (phēmē, "a voice, a prophetic voice, rumor, talk"), from φάναι (phanai, "to speak, say"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • “We live in interesting times” — even if the euphemism is apocryphal, its truth value is the same.

    Coyote Blog » Blog Archive » Do As I Say, Not As I Do

  • PC euphemism is an insult to everyone's intelligence and an assault on free speech, human dignity, and the English language.

    Keeping the Riff-Raff Out of Heaven

  • Populated by a subculture comprised of wizened mechanics, poignant, heroic street urchins, crack-addicted car dwellers, Foreign Parts is a documentary about the fading Steinbeckian (to deal in euphemism) marketplace that is the Willets Point car repair strip in Queens, NY, where a cluster of garages with deep inventories of all manner of car parts from all manner of vehicle, furnish countless savvy, budget-conscious New Yorkers with daily miracles plucked from endless shelves and heaps.

    Michael Vazquez: ON THE 48TH ANNUAL NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL

  • The idea of purity tests by any euphemism is an insult to political parties.

    GOP to unveil campaign pledge after Labor Day

  • The concern, stripped of euphemism, is that the evidentiary basis for many trials of Guantanamo detainees — including, in many cases, torture — would never be admissible in any court worthy of the name.

    It’s Gonna Be A Borstal Breakout | ATTACKERMAN

  • (You will excuse me if, like Humbert, I dissolve into French when euphemism is required.)

    Hurricane Lolita

  • A bunch of blog-spammers and google-spoofers (the euphemism is "Search Engine Optimization" -- no doubt you've received spam offering you this "service") set up a competition to see who could become the number one Google result for the previously unused phrase "nigritude ultramarine."

    Boing Boing: July 4, 2004 - July 10, 2004 Archives

  • The middle manager who says that “we’ll decision this” may be engaging in euphemism or attempting to appear to be a “modern” manager by being linguistically innovative, perhaps hoping to invoke ideas like “scientific management” and hence the manager’s own expertise.

    The Volokh Conspiracy » “The Modern Practice of Making Certain Nouns into Verbs”

  • Barry Goldwater would be apoplectic about a) universal health care b) card check union boosterism c) politicians who support positive discrimination (or in American euphemism-speak, affirmative action) d) government fiscal stimuli of the economy e) bailout of corrupt firms (read: Detroit Three).

    Matthew Yglesias » The World Turned Upside Down

  • Charitable events have often been called a euphemism for social life; that notwithstanding, they have also raised an enormous amount of money for good causes.

    One From The Hart

Comments

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  • J.C.Duffy's take.

    August 14, 2014

  • 1656, from Gk. euphemismos "use of a favorable word in place of an inauspicious one," from euphemizein "speak with fair words," from eu- "good" + pheme "speaking," from phanai "speak" (see fame). In ancient Greece, the superstitious avoidance of words of ill-omen during religious ceremonies, or substitutions such as Eumenides "the Gracious Ones" for the Furies (see also Euxine). In Eng., a rhetorical term at first; broader sense of "choosing a less distasteful word or phrase than the one meant" is first attested 1793.

    refernce to the martyr, Euphemia

    June 9, 2009

  • Circumlocution of sorts.

    April 13, 2007