Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Euphemisms (Confusing Words Part 1 of 12)

Euphemisms are softened and inoffensive words or phrases to cover or suggest something unpleasant. Although we still use them today, many of them are so ingrained we hardly realize them as euphemisms.

For example, after my wife died, it amazed me how few people used words like death. Instead they talked of her passing, going to heaven, or departed. One friend actually said, "She has shuffled off this mortal coil" (probably referring to the words of Hamlet).

Perhaps my friends thought they were protecting me with their euphemistic terms, but, for me, Shirley died. Their word choice spoke to me about their inability to speak directly.

Euphemisms have a long history. At one time, no one in polite company referred to a leg. It was always a limb. Two years ago, an older woman told me she had been shopping and bought unmentionables. I think she meant underwear.

I'm for the direct approach. If we rely on euphemisms, it implies that we're not able to deal with reality. Instead, we find nice, inoffensive ways to say things with which we're not comfortable.

As a writer, 
I like to say what I mean clearly.


  1. I'm sorry for the pain you endured. And for you, passing describes what happened.
    I still stick with the idea of euphemism. Most people aren't able to say words like die and death. And I think their word choices detract from the deep loss. My wife didn't just pass out of my life. She died. TFor me, there is a strong difference.

    1. This comment is in response to a follower's email.

  2. I actually think euphemisms can be appropriate at times. They exist for a reason. I don't believe people always use them because they can't deal with reality. To believe that is naive and short-sighted. I believe people often use them out of simple respect - including self-respect, such as the woman who bought underwear. Who knows, she could have purchased a pack of condoms! Anyway... there's no real reason to believe euphemisms are being used to hide, or because of an inability to face reality. Simply not so. Quite the contrary. People use these out of respect, and they give us a means to speak about things or express ourselves in certain settings without the glare of words that would otherwise offend or leave us feeling naked. I believe euphemisms can be very polite. And I'm not at all one who is afraid to speak my mind.

  3. For me, I find it best to soften the language. I find it cold to say that someone, especially a Christian, has died. I understand it is a loss and I tell family members that I am sorry for their loss. When I have to convey information about a death, I try to be gentle about it. I am one to say, "________ passed on."

  4. It wouldn't be wrong to use euphemistic words as believers, the Bible actually refers to 'death' as sleeping, it is prudent to use the same when our beloved go home ( another one : } )

  5. The sentiments expressed in these comments are compassionate, thoughtful, gentle and kind. And yet, when I have lost a loved one who was very dear to me, I felt the same as Cec. My grandson died. My cousin drowned. They did not "pass away."

    Yes, I believe my precious loved ones are in heaven, rejoicing with our Lord. Yes, I believe we will be reunited forever, one great and glorious day.

    But in the meantime, my arms ache to hold little Kyle, my heart yearns to hear Elaine's beautiful laugh one more time. To talk with her just one more hour on the phone, the way we did the night before she drowned.

    Grief this deep is too searing for euphemisms. My heart has been shattered by grief. In Mr. Murphey's case, losing his wife after more than fifty years of marriage -- I can't even fathom the depth of such a loss.


What are your thoughts?