Zhuo Jing-Schmidt
Table of contents

The word euphemism is of Greek origin where eu ‘well’ and phēmē ‘speaking’ form a compound that means ‘the use of auspicious words’. Euphemisms come handy whenever we cannot say what we really mean because what we really mean is verboten, offensive, or simply sounds jarring. Definitions of euphemism are many. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED, http://​www​.oed​.com/) defines euphemism as (1) “That figure of speech which consists in the substitution of a word or expression of comparatively favourable implication or less unpleasant associations, instead of the harsher or more offensive one that would more precisely designate what is intended”, and (2) “An instance of this figure; a less distasteful word or phrase used as a substitute for something harsher or more offensive.” Allan and Burridge (1991: 11) define euphemism as “an alternative to a dispreferred expression, in order to avoid possible loss of face: either one’s own face or, through giving offense, that of the audience, or of some third party.” Cameron (1995: 73) defines euphemism as “a term used deliberately to avoid or soften the negative associations of words that deal directly with taboo subjects.” Burridge (2012: 66) defines euphemisms as “sweet-sounding, or at least inoffensive, alternatives for expressions that speakers or writers prefer not to use in executing a particular communicative intention on a given occasion.” Lutz (2000: 231) defines euphemism as “an inoffensive or positive word or phrase designed to avoid a harsh, unpleasant, or distasteful reality.” Hughes (2006: 151) defines euphemism as “the use of deliberately indirect, conventionally imprecise, or socially ‘comfortable’ ways of referring to taboo, embarrassing, or unpleasant topics.” Brain (1979: 83) characterizes euphemism as a verbal instrument of overcompensation that involves “a reluctance to face reality.”

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