(redirected from euphemisms)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
My point is not to condemn the use of euphemism and dysphemism, to decry schadenfreude, or to take up the cudgels with Rush Limbaugh concerning political correctness.
He awaits us with open arms in the Sacrament of Confession--to restore us, to forgive us, and to strengthen us with the power of his grace to defeat Satan and his deadly euphemisms.
In the third thematic group Schorch gathers euphemisms that relate to the topic of anthropomorphism.
Rawson (1981:1) believes that euphemisms are powerful linguistic tools that "are embedded so deeply in our language that few of us, even those who pride themselves on being plainspoken, ever get through a day without using them." For Allan and Burridge (1991:14), euphemisms are "alternatives to dispreferred expressions (expressions likely to draw embarrassment because they refer to taboo concepts such as bodily effluvia, reproductive processes and the associated parts--may also include religious terms) and are used in order to avoid possible loss of face".
Where is the euphemism?" A college friend used to ask this question to point out the silliness of calling a toilet a bathroom.
My main goal in this article is to show how Arabic reflected societal taboos in the medieval Islamic world, and the ways by which Arabic speakers applied censorship that led to the creation of euphemisms. The Arabic term for euphemism used in the medieval sources is kinaya (4) However, it should be stated at the outset that euphemism-kinaya is not a one-to-one relationship; before treating its euphemistic sense, the polysemy of kinaya will be discussed in the next section.
Will the "Liverpool Care Pathway", or more correctly the "Lack of Care Pathway", become commonplace when in fact it is euthanasia which in itself is yet another euphemism for killing?
The purpose of euphemisms is twofold (Gladney and Rittenburg 2005: 30).
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.
Politically correct language is narrow, faddish, and highly reflexive in character, consisting in large part of euphemisms. It sometimes promotes or amounts to outright dishonesty.
To some, euphemisms like these are a pointless exercise.