Talk:Euphemism/Archive 1

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Regarding the translation of "bear" as "brown guy" – is this correct? I seem to remember (this may not be entirely accurate) that "bear" comes from the Anglo-Saxon beorn, which in turn comes from beo, meaning "bee", due to the bear's love of honey. This explains the linguistic joke in The Hobbit, where the character "Beorn" (who can turn into a bear at will) is also a beekeeper. Can anybody (with more linguistic knowledge than I have gained from reading Tolkien) confirm this? Also, "ladybird" is cited as a euphemism for "ladybug". As far as I know, "ladybird" has always been the British term and "ladybug" the American term. —Wereon

You could make a strong etymological case for "bear" coming from "beorn", although whether or not this is actually the case would require an examination of historical usage. The name "Beowulf" (bee-wolf) is a kenning for "bear", as would the hypothetical term "beowarg".
As far as Ladybug/Ladybird is concerned: The term "bug" used to refer to one particular type of insect. In the US, it was expanded to include beetles that lacked obvious pincers, and eventually all arthropods (with the usual exception of crustaceans). During the time when "bug" could refer to almost any beetle at all, the Americans shortened "ladybird beetle" (its "full name") to "ladybug", while the Brits simply shortened it to "ladybird". --Corvun 04:01, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I hope this page is at an appropriate level of (in)offensiveness. If anyone feels it is necessary to explain what the example euphemisms mean, I suppose it must be done. (Those taboos are powerful things,) -- Janet Davis

I'm not sure I agree with "longer words". If the word has the same meaning that the one not being used can you call it an euphemism?

Well, "urinate" is certainly more polite than "piss," isn't it? (Although perhaps in the strictest sense it's not a euphemism.) -- Janet Davis

"Piss" is Germanic, while "urinate" is Romantic. The only reason one is considered vulgar is because of cultural descrimination during the development of the English language. I wouldn't say that one is a euphemism for the other. --Corvun 04:01, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Apparently there is an opposite of a euphemism, which is most often called a "dysphemism" but sometimes called a "diseuphemism or deeuphemism," and so I think that the anonymous poster is correct. See for instance http://www.linguistlist.org/~ask-ling/archive-most-recent/msg04202.html and http://www.linguistlist.org/~ask-ling/archive-most-recent/msg04212.html --the most discussion I've found on it; most sites merely define it and move on. Merriam-webster has it that the word dates back to 1884.

But the existence of dysphemisms leaves it to someone to determine which words are the most accurate with the least connotation, to zero the balance, so to speak, and that's something I'll not attempt.  :-D


Actually there are two rough opposites of euphemism, "dysphemism" and "cacophemism". The latter I think is generally used more often in the sense of something deliberately offensive, while the former can be either offensive or merely humorously deprecating. And yes, there is necessarily a lot of subjectivity involved, because connotations eaily change over time. "Idiot" was once a neutral term, and "moron" a euphemism for it. As is usually the case with evolving languages, negative usages win over neutral ones, so we had to come up with "retarded". Now that too is considered rude, so we have "challenged", and so on. A similar progression occurred with "reek/stink/smell/odor/fragrance"...I'm sure 40 years from now "fragrant" will be the vilest insult.

At any rate, a good question to ask is what is the purpose of an encyclopedia article on "euphemism"? I'm not as anti-dictionary-entry as Larry, but in this case I think it is clearly more appropriate to give an overview of the use of euphemisms, examples, history, etc., which is likely to be much richer than what one could do with a dictionary entry. --LDC

I'm not sure that "gay" is a euphemism. Meanings of words change all the time, and it isn't unusual for one meaning to supplant another over time. The fact that a word usually meant one thing but not means another doesn't make it a euphemism. And even if it were once a euphemism (I'm not convinced it was), a case could be made that it isn't any more. —Eric



"spontaneous energetic disassembly" is most definitely a euphemism. There are no uses of this term on the web other than as a euphemism for "explosion": see this Google search.


Uh, I don't think that "The process of coining euphemisms is called taboo deformation". It seems like this is true only in the limited cases where (1) the word is taboo, i.e. offensive or scary, rather than impolite or unflattering, and (2) the original word or phrase is modified, not replaced. E.g. http://www.vroma.org/~jhaughto/etydefinitions.htm --GGano


  • Examples include the original Indo-European words for bear (*rktos), wolf (*wlkwos), and deer (originally, hart). In different Indo-European languages, each of these words have difficult etymologies because of taboo deformations--a euphemism was substituted for the original, and the form of the original word no longer occurs in the language. The Germanic word "bear" means "brown guy;" the Slavic root (*medu-ed-) means "honey eater."
    • Is there any evidence that these are examples of euphemisms, rather than slang? Likewise, "gay" seems to be more slang -- and "lesbian" doesn't seem to really be either a slang term, nor a euphemism. Qwert
"A euphemism is a word or phrase that is used in place of a more disagreeable or offensive term," and if gay and lesbian is used in place of the disagreeable and/or offensive term "homosexual" then they are euphemisms, correct?-Hyacinth 06:56, 27 Feb 2004 (UTC)

Are they less offensive? I think its certainly debatable, many people use "gay" as a perjorative which would make it far more offensive. I think "gay" is slang, not a euphemism. Qwert

A) Gay is not slang, it is the accepted, often preferred, and used term. B) Words can be many things, and all euphemisms start out as slang or jargon.
However, gay predates homosexual, so it is debatable. JDR has expressed the opinion that "same-sex" is a euphemism for homosexual, so I'll edit to that.
"Lesbian" is definately a euphemism. Check the page on lesbianism and read what it says about the etymology.

Being slang and being a euphemism are orthogonal terms—neither is bound up in the other. The defining characteristic of slang is that it is informal, whereas the defining characteristic of a euphemism is that it is used in place of a disagreeable term. Certainly "party" is both slang and euphemism for "take drugs", but "pass away" for "die" is a euphemism without being slang, whereas "cool" for "excellent" is slang without being a euphemism.

The situation surrounding terms marginalized groups use to describe themselves, like those who have minority sexual orientations or are from minority ethnic groups, is much too complicated to be a suitable example for the concept of euphemism. Certain epithets have been reclaimed (for example queer or nigger), but whether their usage is a euphemism, a pejorative term, or just a name is dependent on many factors, not the least of which is whether the person using it is a member of the group or not. Similarly, the terms "gay", "homosexual", and "lesbian" all have different status depending on the social group. "gay and lesbian" is preferred by many, but "queer" by some, and "homosexual" is preferred by those who seek to maintain the group's marginal status by using a cold, clinical term. The politics here are too complex for the idea to serve as an instructive example of the concept of euphemism. As such, I have removed it. Nohat 06:16, 2004 Mar 17 (UTC)

What's the SAMPA for euphemism btw? /iu/fa/m^/zm/ -SV(talk) 06:49, 17 Mar 2004 (UTC)

I think that'd be /"juf@mIzm=/ or, in IPA, /ˈjufəmɪzm̩/Nohat 07:07, 2004 Mar 17 (UTC)

I've been trying to find a descriptive term for the ingenuous political speech which expresses dismay or pleasure at something an opponent has done where the speaker is actually could be expected to have the opposite feeling:

  • "I am troubled that my opponent has lied about his past" meaning "Look what we caught the slime doing--what a great campaign issue."
  • "I am gratified my opponent finally realizes the importance of gerbil rights" meaning "Damn! He's digging into my core constituency!"

No term (euphemism, doublespeak, spin) seems to quite cover this, and it is tiresomely common. Cecropia 13:55, 26 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Sounds like sarcasm Nohat 14:18, 2004 Mar 26 (UTC)
How about irony? Pollinator 14:28, 26 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Are these the best examples ?

  • restroom for toilet room - I think this is a euphemism
  • halitosis for bad breath - But this definately isn't
  • canola for rapeseed - I Don't think so
  • ladybird for ladybug - I Don't think so either

Can we come up with some better examples? Julianp 03:57, 8 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Canola is definitely not a euphemism for rapeseed. Canola is oil from a specific variety of rape. It's more like a brand name. I'm going to take it out of the article. CyborgTosser 15:50, 5 May 2004 (UTC)


According to Snopes:
The Canadian seed oil industry rechristened the product "canola oil" (Canadian oil) in 1978 in an attempt to distance the product from negative associations with the word "rape."
If this is correct, then "Canola" is indeed a euphemism. -- Dominus 18:04, 5 May 2004 (UTC)
But the negative connotation of the word "rape" is an unfortunate coincidence and has nothing to do with the meaning of the "rape" as the name of a plant. Is it a euphemism when someone opts to say "stingy" instead of "niggardly"? I don't think so. CyborgTosser 09:39, 6 May 2004 (UTC)
If this hypothetical person intended to say "niggardly", and then intentionally chose "stingy" instead because they wanted to avoid the apparent bad associations of "niggardly", then yes, I would say that "stingy" was being used as a euphemism. The example seems a little obscure because "niggardly" is such an uncommon word. But consider the use of "drumstick" and "second joint" instead of "leg" and "thigh" for chicken parts. These words refer to pieces of meat, not to portions of the human anatomy, but they are euphemisms anyway, because they are used specifically to avoid the unpleasant associations, real or imagined, with the human body. When "hamburger" was renamed "liberty steak" during World War I, that was a euphemism, because it was done to avoid apparent associations with Germany, even though hamburgers never had anything to do with Hamburg or with Germany. -- Dominus 13:47, 6 May 2004 (UTC)
Consider the following sentence from the article:
When a phrase becomes a euphemism, its literal meaning is often pushed aside.
Euphemisms are what they are because of how they are used. In the case of "canola", there is no literal meaning being pushed aside, only a possible misinterpretation. On the other hand, the leg and a thigh of a chicken are the biologically analogous features of the chicken. If that bothers someone, it is not due to a simple misunderstanding about similar sounding words. By the way, "niggardly" is not an obscure example. A search on Google should show you otherwise. CyborgTosser 04:58, 8 May 2004 (UTC)

Taken out because it looks irrelevant in the context: "Because death and dying is one of the most significant yet least understood transitions in human lives," 62.214.61.187 15:27, 27 Jun 2004 (UTC)


One time I was on a camping trip and a man said he was going "off to water a tree", which has since been my favorite euphemism for urination. -- 66.32.114.171 18:29, 18 Aug 2004 (UTC)



A couple of points I'm not sure about here. First of all:

"Funeral director" replaced "mortician", which replaced "undertaker", which replaced "gravedigger".

These terms don't all neccesarily have the same meaning. Certainly, gravedigger has a very specific meaning, whereas the others refer to a variety of tasks.

Secondly, the two points about shell shock and PTSD:

"Shell shock" was later replaced by "combat fatigue" and then "Post-traumatic stress disorder"

post-traumatic stress disorder, a euphemism for operational exhaustion, euphemism for battle fatigue, a euphemism for shell shock. Used as an example of dehumanization of language (particularly by the American comedian George Carlin). The terms were used in the Vietnam War, Korean War, World War 2 and World War 1 respectively.

PTSD isn't really a euphemism, as I understand it, but rather a medical term that emerged after the condition was properly described. Not only that, it makes it less combat-specific, as it's now widely accepted that the condition can occur to anyone who has been through trauma, not just soldiers. It would be ridiculous to describe, for instance, a rape victim or train crash survivor, as having "shell shock".--MockTurtle 23:15, 27 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Is Chest really a euphemism for Breasts

I mean the consept of chest is much broader. Thus including that as a euphemist without anything else to say is rather... un-wiki-like... q;-) Beta m 13:06, 2004 Sep 10 (UTC)

  • I would argue that it is a euphemism, because it is sometimes used to describe the breast region. While it has other, more literal meanings, so do euphemisms like "tinkle", "washroom", and "freak". Denni 21:00, 2004 Sep 11 (UTC)

Bathroom and Urinate

From my knowledge of the history of English language, the proper Anglo-Saxon word for urinate is piss (and actually proper word for excremate is shit). Now i can see how this can be considered archaic and of no relevance today. However, bathroom is most definately a euphemism for toilet (toilet room) since most of the time there is no bath in there and the reason it's refered to as such is for people not having to talk about bodily wastes. Beta_M talk, |contrib (Ë-Mail)


"In a few decades, calling someone "special" may well be a grave insult."-At my school, people actually do that if they want to be insulting in a subtle, minor way. LtNOWIS

Same here - in Scotland - one way to insult someone is to say they're special, or do an impression of them saying "but my parents say I'm special". It can be pretty harsh.

Computer-implemented invention

I removed in doublespeak section:

"computer-implemented invention for computer program, or programming method, as used by EU governmental officials to legitimize software patents, which are specifically prohibited by the European Patent Convention but which they seek to legalize."

It is wrong to say that all software patent are specifically prohibited by the European Patent Convention or de jure excluded from patentability under the European Patent Convention: only "computer programs as such" (see Software patent under the European Patent Convention for more information). Especially, once a invention is implemented on a computer, it is not merely an algorithm anymore and the invention is linked to the real physical world, it may present a technical character and is then not de jure excluded (even if it should pass the inventive step requirement). The expression "Computer-implemented invention" is totally appropriate and is not a doublespeak. --Edcolins 22:16, Nov 3, 2004 (UTC)

While I agree that the original wording is quite partisan, computer-implemented invention is clearly doublespeak, used exactly to smooth-over the (NPOV-speaking) gray area of software patents. Any program becomes a computer-implemented invention if it's implemented on a computer -- which happens for pretty much any program, and is the least-creative part of the job (it could even be OCR'd). It's just like saying that the contents of a DVD are not information once it's broadcasted on TV, since it's now connected to the real world. Perhaps a rewording should be re-added (it seems to me that simply removing this is not NPOV).

I've removed the Doublespeak entry -

"polemic for someone having a fixed position, who is not liked and can't be denounced by other means such as refuting"

- because it's inaccurate (polemic is not and never has been a euphemism, and if it were it still couldn't be a euphemism for a kind of person), whiny ("I don't like you"), and anti-intellectual ("why do people disagree with me?"), but if I'm in error and someone can justify its inclusion, then please explain the inclusion to me, because I just can't see it. --Chips Critic 03:17, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)