We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Check Writers' Offers

What's Your Topic?

Hire a Professional Writer Now

The input space is limited by 250 symbols

What's Your Deadline?

Choose 3 Hours or More.
2/4 steps

How Many Pages?

3/4 steps

Sign Up and Get Writers' Offers

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Get Offer

English Euphemism

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 17 (4095 words)
Categories: Country,England,English,Social science,Society,Sociology,World
Downloads: 40
Views: 350

Euphemism, as a common linguistic phenomenon in world culture, is widely used in every social class and field. English euphemism, as one of many euphemisms existing in the world, has its own deep origin, which include both the religious origin and the historical, literary origin. This thesis will try to discuss the origin of English euphemism from every aspect of religion, race, politics, literary, and history. Language reflects life, and is always closely related to the society. During the communication, due to some certain restriction of behavior and morality, people tend to use euphemism-used as a kind of lubrication, making the harsh, indelicate words sound tactful and pleasant.

English euphemism plays a very important role in people’s social communication. This paper will also expound the social communicative function of English euphemism from the three aspects: evasive function, polite function, and cosmetic function.

Having a good understanding of the origin and social function of English euphemism and the English language Culture can avoid many conflicts in the process of social communication .

[Key Words] origin; communicative function; evasion; cosmetic function; politeness [Abstract] euphemisms prevalent in the language of the world’s cultural phenomenon, it is widely used in all social strata and fields. Euphemism as a euphemism in one of the many, has its deep roots produced, in which packets of religion and politics, but also literature and history. This paper attempts to religion, race, politics, literature, history, in a bid to explore the emergence of English Euphemisms source.

Language reflects life, and always closely linked with social, conversation in the language, due to a certain code of conduct and Ethics constraints, people often use the euphemism —- the ‘lubricant’, making harsh, non – polite euphemism becomes so pleasurable. It is in people’s social communication played an important role. This function of its taboo, courtesy functions and capabilities in three areas to cover up the English language Euphemism illustrates the social communicative functions. Euphemism by fully understanding the origins of English and its social communicative function, and further understand the English language and culture, in order to avoid social communication in the various conflicts. [Keywords:] origin; communicative function; taboo; politeness; cover


Euphemism is a cultural phenomenon as well as a linguistic concept. Every language has its own euphemism, so does English. It is deeply rooted in social life and has a great influence on social communication. As an indispensable and natural pArt of English language, English euphemism has attracted people’s attention for a long time. Since Euphemism was coined, it has played a very important role in people’s communication. The communication without euphemism is unimaginable. Euphemism is used like lubrication, which makes the communication go on smoothly. This thesis will have an overview of the origin of English euphemism, and state its social communicative function.

English euphemism as a linguistic concept, it has close relationships with the western culture, and it truly reflects the life and values of English people and their history. Euphemism is a particularly good medium for access to the force of language that has provided an effective approach to understanding the human mind. The study of English euphemism can help us understand the western Culture and promote the international Development because euphemism is widely used in international negotiations. So there is a great need for us to study English euphemism, including: its origin, its social function, etc.

2. The definitions of English euphemism

Euphemism is a universal linguistic phenomenon. Nearly in every language, there are some disgusting words, which make people feel embarrassed. In the process of communication, the unsuitable or too direct words will make people feel uncomfortable, even angry. Then there is a great need for us to use a tactful way to express emotion, exchange ideas. That is to say, to use a pleasant, mild or indirect words or phrases take the place of tabooed words. It is known that euphemism is a form of language intentionally created in social relation to achieve ideal communication. Without them any language would seem to be vulgar and rude, void of politeness and vividness to some extent. As a common communication in the process of people using language, euphemism is an important way for people to coordinate the social relationships.

Like a kind of lubrication, euphemism enables people to express what cannot be uttered directly and ensures communication to be carried smoothly. It is a language Strategy in civilized society for avoiding taboo. It is unimaginable if the communication is without euphemism. The word ‘euphemism’ was derived from the Greek word ‘euphemismos’, which means ‘fair speech’. The prefix ‘eu’ means ‘good, sound well’ and ‘pheme’ means ‘saying’ or ‘speech’. And thus the literal meaning of ‘euphemism’ is ‘to speak with good words or in a pleasant manner’. That is to say, euphemism is used as an alternative to unpleasant expression, in order to avoid possible lose of face, either one’s own face or through going offense, that of the audience, or some of third of party.

This unpleasant expression may be tabooed, fearsome, or for some other reasons that speakers can’t or intend not to use some certain expression directly on some occasion. ‘In Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language is’ the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought substituted ‘. Rawson Blunt, a British writer, defined euphemism as’ a good favorable interpretation of a bad word.”[1 ] ‘Encyclopedia Britannica (1994) also defines euphemism as’ a figure of speech in which something of an unpleasant, distressing or indelicate nature is described in less offensive terms”[2] From the above mentioned, we could clearly see that euphemism is characterized by avoidance language and evasive expression. The speakers use words or expressions as a protective shield against the anger or disapproval of natural or supernatural things. It is one form of language and a linguistic phenomenon

3.The origins of English euphemism

3.1 The religious origin of English euphemism

The earliest English euphemisms come from ‘taboo’. The word ‘taboo’ comes from Togan, a kind of Polynesian. It indicates evasive language or action. [3] The emergence of English euphemism is to meet the need of avoiding taboos. In primitive society, people can’t explain such things as ailment and some supernatural phenomena. ‘People have confusion between the name of the things and things themselves. The name is viewed as an extension of things. Just as the idiom says’ Speak of devil and he appears ‘. Naturally the words or phrases related to such things become taboos.’ [4] In the ancient times, people had blind faith in ghosts and Gods they respected. They whispered and even feared them so they did not dare to address their names directly. They think it profane to name God.

Therefore the names of gods become the earliest taboos. To speak name of gods was to evoke the divinity whose power then had to be confronted. Such dangerous practices were reserved for priests skilled in negotiating with the supernatural. So the usual way to avoid is to employ euphemisms. Therefore, for the religious need, a lot of euphemisms about religion emerged. For example, in order not to desecrate God, people in English-speaking country always use some other name for God instead of calling directly, such as ‘Adonai, the Almighty, Caesar’s Cruth, the Creater, Dod, Gad, Land, Lawks, Lawd.’ [5]

The opposite side of god is devil, which is more terrible for people. When people refer to them, they tend to use such euphemisms to replace: D, the Big D, the Evil one, the Black one, the Goodman, Jesse, Old boy, Our father, Lord of lords, King of kings, the Light of the world, etc. [6] From the above mentioned, we can find that religion brings many euphemistic terms in the religious matter, especially the naming and addressing of God to the language. 3.2 The racial and national origins of English euphemism

It is known to all, the phenomenon of racial discrimination is deeply rooted in America in which ‘equal opportunity’ is flattered by American white people as an equal right enjoyed by everyone. Due to the pressure of social public opinion, although some whites discriminate the black from their heart, they will not expose this kind of prejudice in public. Meanwhile, few people dare to humiliate and persecute blacks publicly for no reason at all. In other words, the way of discrimination becomes tactful. There are many euphemisms emerging for this reason. In the 1930s, ‘nigger’ is still a neutral noun in England, and has no meaning of humiliating blacks. But since this word has the obvious meaning of discriminating the blacks, most of people in England and Americans use some other euphemistic words, such as ‘colored black’ instead.

When talking about some other races, it does not often use the direct words that are related to color. People often use some euphemistic expression, such as the geographic name. 3.3 Historical, literary and Political origins of English euphemism From the time the Normans conquered England in 1066, English has emerged many euphemisms. At that time, the main reason to use euphemism is that the language used by the conquered is often disparaged, and is thought as gross language. The upper class surely doesn ‘t want to lower their status to use such words. In order to avoid using such gross words, they tend to use’ the elegant words’, which originated from Latin. And these words were mixed into English gradually. There are also many euphemisms in literary works.

For example, in Hamlet, Shakespeare use the expression ‘The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns’ (there has never been a mystery travelers to come back off the country) to express his great sympathy for Hamlet . [7] The famous American writer Mark Twain use ‘release’ to express ‘die’ in his work The Adventure of Tom Sawyer. Besides, politics is a fertile area for the appearance and growth of English euphemism, which is cosmetic in expression but deceptive in nature. Euphemisms of this kind are always consciously and deliberately. The cosmetic euphemism can be easily found in American English. Government’s discussion of the Vietnam War was saturated with euphemisms.

Villages burned and inhabitants imprisoned were ‘Pacifications’; the war itself was not a war but a ‘conflict’, the ‘bombing’ becomes ‘logistical strike’ or ‘close air support’, and ‘killing’ becomes ‘wasting the enemy’. These euphemisms are used to deceive and to hide the dirty business of war . [8] The use of such Political euphemisms helps government to beautify the action and prevent people from taking any anti-government action. So in order to satisfy the Political needs, many euphemisms come to exist.

4.The social communicative function of English euphemism

From the perspective of language communication, euphemism functions to avoid taboos, to show politeness and conceal feelings. Thanks to euphemism, it is easy for people to accept the things that are likely to make others feel embarrassed or unhappy. It is people’s general character to express their ideas as mildly and tactfully as possible. Euphemism helps people to reach this goal. From the moment euphemism came into existence, it has played a very important role in our daily communication, and help establish a good relationship between human beings and even strengthen the social stability. Euphemism are motivated by the desire not to be offensive.

People use them to show their politeness, to avoid being offensive and to meet the psychological and beneficial needs of both speakers and hearers in communication. But sometimes they are used to conceal or cover something. Accordingly, euphemism serves three basic communicative functions: evasive function, polite function and cosmetic function.

4.1 The evasive function of English euphemism

The evasive function of euphemism is to evade using taboos, enabling the speaker to talk about tabooed things freely. These tabooed things are believed to be dangerous to certain individuals, or to the society as a whole, or to be disgusting and unpleasant, and cause fear. Such tabooed things include: disease, disabilities, death, sex, body excretion and body elimination process, etc. People can use euphemisms to talk about what cannot be talked directly.

Reposted elsewhere in the paper for free download
4.1.1 In terms of disease and disabilities

People yearn for health, and fear for specific disease and every sort of disability. So people always use tactful way to express them. For example, sexual or venereal disease such as syphilis, gonorrhoea, ADIS, etc. Are called ‘social disease’, ‘communicative disease’, etc. in English. Besides, disabilities are very sensitive area in every culture. In English, ‘the disabled, the handicapped, the inconvenienced, the invalid, auditory impaired, hard of hearing, talk with one’s fingers’, etc. are put into service. [9] So euphemism plays a very important function in our social communication. Without it, we sometimes cannot continue our talk.

4.1.2 In terms of death

Death is an inevitable stage at the end of life’s journey. It is common Experience of human beings. Yet it has been the source of fear-fear of the loss of loved ones; fear of the end of one’s life; fear of the actual process of dying. Therefore, all these fears, worries, and unpleasant feelings combined lead to verbal taboo of death. Euphemisms concerning death are extremely rich. In English, there are more than seventy euphemisms for ‘death’, including ‘to be gone, to be gone to a better world, to be with God, to breath one’s last, to close one’s day, to depArt from the world forever, to depArt to God, to fall asleep, join the great majority, pass away, etc. [10 ] No matter why this word is used in a certain language, people always tend to use less harsh words

4.1.3 In terms of sex, body excretion and body elimination process Words relating to sex, procreation and excretion are highly restricted to mention because they may evoke disgusting responses of people. Verbal taboo on them is probably motivated by the intuitive disaster, shame. People all have certain feelings of which they are so ashamed that they don ‘t like to admit even to themselves. In people’s daily life or in some formal occasion, if the talk or discussion refers to something about drainage, people will try to avoid using vulgar language. They tend to use some implied or neutral words to make conversation comfortable. For ordinary people, the safest way to avoid mentioning these things that they have to mention in many circumstances is to use another expression-euphemism to replace the true name of such a thing.

For example, in English there are many elegant expressions for ‘going to WC’, such as: to wash one’s hand, to spend a penny, to go and see one’s aunt, to answer the call of nature, because nature calls, etc. [11] ‘The topic concerning being pregnant is touchy because it tends to arouse the association with sexual behaviors.’ To beat round bushes’ is very necessary, such as’ with child ‘,’ anticipating ‘,’ excepting ‘for’ pregnant ‘, etc. [12] Talking about sexual intercourse is taboo. Expressions relating to sex have heavily been veiled for the purpose of avoiding awkwardness and offense. So people use euphemistic words to talk about it. For example, people evade saying ‘hip’ directly which is replaced with ‘buttock’, ‘bottom’, ‘one’s thing’, and ‘secret parts’ donates sex organs of both males and females.

4.1.4 In terms of old age

English and Chinese have different feelings about ‘old age’. A Chinese is proud of being old, whereas a westerner will feel irritated and even insulted at mentioning his oldness. In English culture, people do not describe others as or to be described as’ old ‘because the old, who no longer work, are ignored by society. Therefore, people create’ the second childhood golden years, senior citizen, gray hair, mature golden age ‘when they refer to’ old age ‘in which it attempts to conceal the fact of becoming old and avoid arousing old people’s sad feeling of aging. [14] 4.2 The polite function of English euphemism.

Politeness is another important function that euphemisms serve in the social life. Politeness is the symbol of human’s civilization and one of the important principles guiding people’s activities. As a kind of significant social activity, language activity must observe this principle, too. When we have to talk something unpleasant, we should choose euphemistic way to express in order not to hurt others. Being polite is a reasonable action that anyone who is keen on face-saving will take. The polite function of euphemism is tried to avoid being harsh or impolite in the communication. In other words, euphemisms are to minimize impolite expressions and maximize polite expressions. For instance, when a teacher comments on a student’s moral conducts and school work in front of the student or his or her parent, he or she should report the fact on one hand, and on the other hand should take into consideration the student’s psychological endurance and the parent’s face.

So the euphemistic way to express might be ‘The student is a bit slow for his or her age’ instead of ‘The student is stupid ‘. [15] The polite function of English euphemism is embodied in every occupational language. Occupational discrimination gives people pressure and emotional irritation. Although euphemisms cannot uproot this kind of phenomenon, at least, they can give them some psychological comfort by upgrading of career name. Therefore, ‘ engineer, manager, etc. ‘have become more and more fashionable.’

Dustman ‘is changed to’ sanitary engineer ‘;’ mechanic ‘to’ automobile engineer ‘,’ gardener ‘to’ landscape architect ‘,’ shoemaker ‘to’ shoe rebuilder ‘[16] In English, there are many adjectives about people’s appearance, such as’ good looking, handsome, pretty, charming, attractive’, etc. They are all commendatory words. When talking about someone who is not pretty, we cannot use ‘ugly’ or ‘awfully’. We had better use some euphemisms such as ‘plain, ordinary, not particularly looking’, etc. instead of them. So euphemism’s polite function can save people’s face in their process of communication. It is so important that we cannot neglect it.

4.3 The cosmetic function of English euphemism

Besides the evasive and polite function, euphemism has the cosmetic function. This kind of euphemism is usually used in the government, military, politics and commerce. It refers to using good words to beautify things, which are not beautiful in reality and make the thing be more persuaded and acceptable. Because euphemism has the nature of vagueness, to some extent, it is deceptive. Traditionally speaking, euphemism plays a positive role in social life. Using it, people can avoid some embarrassed and ungracious occasion. But just as every coin has two sides, euphemism has no exception. Using it suitably can coordinate social relationships, but abusing it will mislead the public, will cover up the essence of things. For example, in modern Western society, the poor is called as’ the needy ‘, later it was changed to’ the culturally deprived ‘, then to’ the underprivileged ‘, at last to’ the disadvantaged ‘. So it will confuse people that this country is so rich that there is no poor people at all. Firstly, the government and the military often use them to disguise the reality from truth.

They describe ‘Economic crisis’ as ‘recession’ or ‘depression’; ‘attack’ as ‘active defense’. [17] At the beginning of 20th century , the relationship between labor and capital become strained, and the agitation of striking became a serious social problem. In order to hide the fact, politicians call the strained labor-capital relationship as ‘industrial climate’, striking as ‘industrial action’. If the negotiation between labor and capital is successful, it will be claimed as ‘productive’, on the contrary, it is ‘counter-productive’. [18] Secondly, this kind of euphemism is widely used in commerce. It is often used to play tricks and to deceive the customers. The commercial exaggerates the product’s function and quality. In the same way, the English euphemism is also used to make customers feel pleased . For example, in order to meet the passengers’ sense of dignity, some Airlines call First Class Deluxe Class or Premium Class; Second Class First Class; and Third Class become Business Class, Economic Class, or Tourist Class.

Doing like these, it seems that all passengers’ position are promoted. Their purpose is to attract more passengers and gain more profits by using euphemisms in the communication, meanwhile, the customers feel more decent, and it helps customers save face. In short, euphemism of this kind may make an idea more palatable, but they inflate language, reduce precision and often tamper with truth. Some people condemn euphemism as demoralizing because of its hypocrisy, which other consider them useful in the aspect of coordinating social relationships . However, the fact remains that euphemisms are very much a part of the language, and what’s more important for us is not to debate their merits or demerits, but rather to be able to realize that English euphemism can serve for the special social activities under certain circumstance.

5. Conclusion

English euphemism as an essential part of English language, is observed everywhere and widely used in people’s daily communication. On the issue of the origin and social communicative function of English euphemism, this thesis has a tentative exploration. But this kind of exploration is in a state of Development because euphemism is developed all the time. Euphemism roots in every aspect of social life, and is developed with the advancement of society. English euphemism is a mirror of Western Culture in the form of English language. From the moment it was born, it has distinct culture color. Euphemism undoubtedly reflects the inner relationship among the cultural tradition, social values and the form of language. In speech interaction, sometimes, out of politeness or tact, one uses a pleasant, less direct word instead of something unpleasant. Using euphemism is speaker’s active pragmatic Strategy in a certain time and a certain situation.

English euphemism promotes the Development of English language, and enriches the vocabularies of English language, giving people a feeling of warm and fresh. In the 21st century, with the development of science and technology, many social problems rise, too. People crave for the gentle, warm and easy understood words. Euphemism emerges ceaselessly just right for meeting this psychological need. As a common communication medium and a rhetoric method, English euphemism will be used wider and wider.

Some scholars hold the opinion that it is unreasonable to use euphemism because they have the nature of deceit, especially in politics and government. But we cannot deny the fact that euphemism is very helpful in the process of human communication. Twenty-first century is a period when people of different culture have even more touches with each other. So it is vital for us to have a good understanding of English euphemism. It is unimaginable if the diplomatic negotiation is without euphemism. Using euphemism is a kind of language skill that each of us should master.


[1] Li Qing. A Tentative Study of English Euphemism-From Pragmatic Perspective. Shandong Normal University, a master’s degree thesis in English Language and Literature. 2003 2.24 P2 [2] Wu Chang-Qi An Analysis of Diplomatic Euphemism from the Perspectives of Cooperative Principles and
Politeness Principle. Chongqing University of Foreign Linguistics and Applied Linguistics Master’s degree thesis. 2004.5 P7 [3] Hanyin Yan, Liu Lei. Euphemisms from the psychological view of social communicative function [J]. Science, Shenyang Normal University (Social Science Edition). 2005.3 P146 [4] the same [1] P4

[5] Xiang-Yun Wu. Euphemism social function [J]. Zhaotong Teacher’s College. 2004.2 P30 [6] the same [5] P30
[7] Mao new cultivation. On the basis of English Euphemisms generation [J]. Yunmeng Journal. 2004.3 P3 [8] Sheng-Juan. On the cover of Euphemism function [J]. Hunan Agricultural University (Social Science Edition). 2004.12 P94 [9] HU Chun-mei. On the composition and function of Euphemism [J]. Zhejiang Education College. 2005.1P32 [10] Kong a peak, Wang Yanjun. Euphemism of the communicative functions of English and its applications [J]. Shanxi Journal of Radio and Television University. 2004.P59 [11] the same [10] P59

[12] Bi Xiuying A Study on English Euphemism. Zhengzhou University Foreign Language and Literature master’s degree thesis 2003.11 P34 [13] Fan groups A Study of Culture Connotation of English Euphemism, Hunan Normal University, a master’s degree in English Language and Literature Papers 2005.5 P43 [14] Ya-Ping Wang, Wan Xueqin. Interpretation of the communicative functions of English Euphemisms [J]. Jiangxi education. 2004.6 P37 [15] Muge force. On the very structure of English euphemism [J]. Gansu Science and Technology vertical and horizontal. 2005.2 P133 [16] Tao Qin 3. Discussion on the origin of English Euphemisms and social function [J]. A Journal of Nanjing health. 2003.1 P157 [17] Wang Ping. The Communicative Functions of English Euphemism and its tectonic approach Exploration [J]. Fuqing Branch of Fujian Normal University Journal of .2004.4 P62 [18] the same [10] P59

Cite this essay

English Euphemism. (2016, Oct 15). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/english-euphemism-essay

How to Avoid Plagiarism
  • Use multiple resourses when assembling your essay
  • Use Plagiarism Checker to double check your essay
  • Get help from professional writers when not sure you can do it yourself
  • Do not copy and paste free to download essays
Get plagiarism free essay

Not Finding What You Need?

Search for essay samples now


Your Answer is very helpful for Us
Thank you a lot!