Printable Version
Pronunciation: yu-fê-mi-zêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: An inoffensive word or phrase that substitutes for an offensive or taboo word.

Notes: A euphemism replaces a word that refers to something that we don't like to mention aloud. There are many for die: pass away, depart, expire, kick the bucket. Lord, Creator, Almighty are euphemisms for God, a name many consider too holy to utter. Euphemisms help us avoid taking the Lord's name in vain, prohibited by the Ten Commandments. God as an expletive has been replaced by golly and gosh, while Jesus has become just gee whiz, later reduced to just gee. Darn and heck are polite surrogates for similar expletives.

In Play: Political correctness all too frequently takes refuge in euphemisms: postal carrier for postman, sanitation engineer for garbage collector. The airlines now use the euphemism water landings in preference to "crashing into the sea". We have invented many euphemistic terms for taboo terms referring to sex and lower bodily functions, which we need not parade before a readership as imaginative as ours. On a side note, the surname of the next (third) president of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, is based on medved "a bear". Medved was originally a euphemism meaning "honey eater", used at a time when Russian bear hunters considered the name of their target a taboo word that would jinx the hunt.

Word History: Today's Good Word is a thinly disguised copy of Greek euphemismos. The Greek noun comes from the verb euphemizein "to use auspicious (lucky) words". Euphemismos was compounded from eu-s "good" + pheme "speech, saying" + the noun suffix -ism-os (the origin of the English suffix -ism). The word for "speech" in Greek shares its source with Latin fari "to speak". The present participle of fari is fan(t)s "speaking", the negative of which is infan(t)s "not speaking". Guess which English word came from this Latin term. ("Thank you" is no euphemism when we offer it to Ralph Mowrey for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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