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the replacement of coarse or offensive words and expressions with less offensive ones or of certain names with conventional designations. Euphemisms are the result of lexical taboos imposed by various prejudices, superstitions, and religious beliefs on the use of the names for specific objects and phenomena in life, thus necessitating other means of expression.

In the early stages of social development of many Indo-European peoples, the names of various animals were euphemisms. Thus, the Russian word medved’ (“bear”) is an artificially created compound meaning “honey-eater”; it replaced an earlier word, which was placed under taboo because of mythological beliefs. Among professional hunters the word medved’ subsequently underwent a second taboo and was replaced with new euphemisms, such as khoziain (“master”), mokhnach (“hairy one”), and lomaka (“bone breaker”). When taboos are rooted in superstition and prejudice, euphemisms arise for the words for death and illnesses. Thus, Russian umer (“he died”) is replaced with otpravilsia k praotsam (“he went to join his forefathers”), otdal bogu dushu (“he gave his soul to god”), or prikazal dolgo zhit’ (“he ordered a long life”).

In a civilized society one of the principal causes for the use of euphemisms is etiquette, which bans the use of coarse or indecent expressions. Thus, instead of saying “you are lying,” one says “you are inventing things,” “you are mistaken,” or “you are not entirely correct.” Physicians often use Latin names for illnesses or special medical terms: in Russian, “cancer” and “tbc” (both spelled with Latin letters) may be used for the standard Russian terms rak and tuberkulez; smert’ (“death”) may be replaced by letal’nyi iskhod (“fatal outcome”). In modern societies, euphemisms are also used to impose censorship on the revelation of military and state secrets. In such cases the proper names of countries, cities, and military units are replaced by letters and conventional designations, such as “N” and “Nth,” or by descriptive expressions, such as “a neighboring power.”

Some jargons, in addition to embellishments and euphemisms, also use reverse euphemisms, or dysphemisms, which involve the replacement of neutral expressions with coarser, more familiar, or more vulgar ones. Thus, Russian dat’ duba (literally, “to give the oak”), sygrat’ v iashchik (literally, “to play the box”), and skopytit’sia (literally, “to be knocked off one’s feet”) may be used for the neutral umeret’ (“to die”). Such substitutions sometimes serve the purpose of disguising the meaning of conversations likely to be overheard.


Reformatskii, A. A. Vvedenie v iazykoznanie, 4th ed. Moscow, 1967.
Bonfante, G. “Etudes sur le tabou dans les langues indoeuropéennes.” In the collection Mélanges de linguistique offerts à Charles Bally. Geneva, 1939.


References in periodicals archive ?
Traditionally, it has been considered that a language user resorts to euphemism with the purpose of mitigating the potential dangers of certain taboo words or expressions, considered too blunt or offensive for a given social situation.
429/1039), (5) Kitab al-Kinaya wa-l-ta'rid (The Book of Euphemism and Allusion), occupies a special place.
However, as pointed out by Warren, "what is a euphemism 'is in the eye/ear of the beholder' and cannot strictly speaking be objectively verified, although normally of course there is consensus among language users as to what words are euphemistic" (1992b: 135).
But euphemisms such as "market correction" are what people use in the place of scarier words, Keyes said Sunday in a speech at the Eugene Public Library held in honor of Banned Book Week.
The term lame is now rather antiquated (a victim of the euphemism treadmill) and has also become a fairly broad term of offense, most commonly designating something that is boring, pointless, or passe.
Complaining is less uncomfortable, less rude, if we use euphemisms.
But, as with the euphemism, you'll have to discover it for yourselves.
ON my final Capital Radio show last week, I got a bit demob happy, and asked my gentlemen listeners to send in charming euphemisms that they use to describe their private parts.
and we totally accepted this euphemism until one day my granny says, `Come, David, and whisper in granny's ear'.
He steeped himself in the venues that are defined by what we term jazz dance--a euphemism for dance shaped by the African-American experience.
Harijan is a euphemism for the low castes and untouchables and means people of god.
Sadly, though, when the moon was high and full, his gentle nature changed and he would rage and a roar and have to be taken away by strong men to a place called a home, which I suppose is another euphemism.