Improve your English: euphemisms


I need to spend a penny

A euphemism is a mild, indirect or evasive expression that takes the place of one that is taboo, offensive, unpleasant or embarrassing: especially words relating to death, sexual activity, bodily functions, and violence.

euphemistic – adjective

euphemistically – adverb


Here are some common euphemisms:

♦ terminate – kill

We must terminate him before he reaches the border.

♦ friendly fire – an attack that comes from one’s own side that accidentally kills or injures one’s own soldiers

Ten soldiers were seriously injured in friendly fire.

♦ collateral damage – the killing of civilians by mistake (especially by the military)

They say that some collateral damage is inevitable during military action.


♦ lost their lives – were killed

Many people lost their lives in the accident.


♦ put to sleep – (an animal) euthanized by a vet

We had to have our dog put to sleep yesterday.


♦ pass water – urinate

I don’t know what’s wrong with me: I’m passing water ten times a day!

♦ spend a penny – urinate

Can we stop here? I need to spend a penny.


♦ sleep with – have sex with

Have you slept with him?


♦ tired and emotional – drunk

You’d better take him home, he’s a bit tired and emotional.


♦ full-figured – overweight

Clothes for the full-figured man or woman.

♦ a few extra pounds – overweight

He’s carrying a few extra pounds compared to when we last met.


♦ over the hill – old

I’m not over the hill yet!


♦ the big C – cancer

Did you hear that Mrs Jones has the big C?


♦ pass away – die

Her grandmother passed away last night.

♦ kick the bucket – die

He worked hard for forty years and then kicked the bucket the day after he retired.

♦ didn’t make it – died

I’m sorry to say he didn’t make it.


♦ let go – fired (from a job)

The business is in trouble and six of us have been let go.

♦ between jobs – unemployed

I’m an actor but I’m between jobs at the moment.


Corruption around the world

This article on the BBC website has examples from around the world of euphemisms for bribes.

For example:

Nokia box (Hungarian)

“In Hungary, the term “Nokia box” became a symbol of corruption in 2010 after the head of the Budapest Public Transport Company, Zsolt Balogh, was caught handing over cash to the deputy mayor of Budapest, Miklos Hagyo, in a Nokia box. Since then, “Nokia box” has also became a sort of unit of measurement – meaning 15m forints ($65,000) – the size of Balogh’s original bribe.”

Money for tea (Pashto/Farsi)

“The universal popularity of tea and coffee as metaphors for bribes points to another way euphemisms function to conceal the true nature of a corrupt transaction. In Afghanistan and Iran the expression for a bribe is “poul-e-chai”, meaning “money for tea”. In both countries, tea-drinking is an essential part of social life. Asking for “money for tea” carries the suggestion that the bribe will be shared with others. Some expressions – such as “beans for the kids” – appeal to a sense of charity by claiming a bribe benefits someone more deserving.”


Can you translate and share some euphemisms from your language? I’d love to see your examples.


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