Literary terms: euphemism



a euphemism is a type of figurative device in which we substitute a more pleasing statement in place of a very harsh unpleasant literal statement for example suppose that I work for you and you get tired of of my in competence so you decide to fire me you you might very well say to me Rick you're fired but you might also choose to use a euphemism you might say to me something like Rick I regret to inform you that we no longer require your services and I think about it and I think hey wait a minute you're firing me that's what a euphemism is instead of saying the literal statement which is very harsh and unpleasant you substitute a gentler statement we talk about three major areas in you famous very commonly we talk about death sex and bodily functions using euphemisms so it's not that common that people will talk about a certain loved one who is dead which would be the literal statement if the person is dead instead we typically say things like he passed away or he's no longer with us these are ways of avoiding the unpleasant literalness of saying this person is dead or has died we do the same thing when we talk about sex a lot of the time one of the oldest euphemisms that we have in human language to talk about sex actually comes from the Hebrew Bible the Jewish Torah in the story of the Garden of Eden we are told that Adam lay with his wife eve that of course is a euphemism the author was uncomfortable saying Adam had sexual intercourse with his wife eve and so substituted a gentler way of saying he lay with her we also use euphemism to talk about bodily functions if I say I'm going to go to the bathroom that really is a euphemism it's a gentler way of saying I have to go urinate or I have to go defecate even hearing me say those things in this video might be unpleasant that's the whole point we use euphemisms to avoid saying unpleasant literal statements all kinds of euphemisms throughout human history have been used to avoid talking about menstruation woman's monthly periods we say things like a woman's time of the month instead of saying what is literally going on so um is amidst a way of avoiding talking about death sex and bodily functions but those are three major areas in which we use euphemisms you will often find two people in positions of authority will use euphemisms to make their commands their orders more palatable very common one is a person in authority says I have a suggestion I'd like you to do this business and the employees think oh okay that's not really a suggestion that's a euphemism he's actually ordering us to do this or that thing I already mentioned the example of suppose that I work for you and you tell me Rick we no longer require your services that again is a kind of authority figure presenting something that's unpleasant in a way that sounds a little bit more pleasant we use euphemisms as ways of avoiding hurting people's feelings suppose a guy in a girl are boyfriend and girlfriend are in a romantic or sexual relationship and she decides I'm just sick of this guy instead of saying that now where she might say that but it's also quite likely that instead of saying the harsh unpleasant literal truth she says something like this I think we need some time apart I think maybe our relationship would work better if we were just friends and the guy is probably thinking to himself hey wait a minute that's a euphemism she's breaking up by the me so watch for this because we use euphemisms in our everyday interactions all the time as ways of avoiding saying what we really mean governments are notorious for using euphemisms war conflicts disasters breed all kinds of euphemisms when a group of soldiers accidentally kills group another group of soldiers who are on their side that is called friendly fire when a bomb goes off and blows up a whole bunch of innocent people by accident that's called collateral damage there are entire books written on military and war euphemisms ways that governments manipulate us through language to try to make the horrors and unpleasantness and terrors of war sound more acceptable so this is one of many ways that we can speak figuratively and the essence of it is instead of saying what we really mean which would be literal and harsh and unpleasant we substitute a much gentler much more palatable expression but in doing so we often not always but we can often end up distorting the truth there's nothing wrong with using euphemisms we all do it and sometimes it's necessary as part of getting along with other people in society but let's always be aware when it's being done especially when someone else is doing it to us

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