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A euphemism ( Latinized form of Greek εὐφημία Euphemia , words of good omen '; ultimately going back to εὖ eu ' good 'and φημί phēmí I say'), also: Glimpfwort , palliation , secret word , euphemism originally or embellishment is a linguistic expression names a person , a group of people , an object or a fact in a glossing over, mitigating or concealing manner.

The semantic counterpart to euphemism is dysphemism (cacophemism). This devalues ​​what is referred to and gives it negative connotations . Both euphemism and dysphemism are considered rhetorical figures .


Upgrading, moderating or hushing up formulations can be used - even unconsciously - for different motives, whereby several can come into play at the same time: First and foremost, one does not want to break existing taboos and social norms, avoid objectionable things, protect the feelings of the speaker and the person being addressed or deceive, disguise or attract attention out of self-interest.

Glossy speaking is not limited to a specific language or a single topic, but can be found everywhere. Euphemistic expressions are used in the public domain mainly in politics and in business. In everyday life, they occur particularly often in taboo topics, for example in the sexual and faecal areas, as well as with the associated locations, objects and body parts. Even in the contexts of illness and death, one often feels that a gentle expression is appropriate. Furthermore, there are numerous euphemisms, for example in religious as well as certain social and cultural areas.

The stock of euphemisms is only to a small extent conventionalized in the vocabulary of a language. The majority of the specific speaking circumstances (occasion of speech, place, social group and intention to speak) determine what counts as a euphemism and when this linguistic device is used.

Functions of euphemisms

The use of language always has a specific function . If a euphemism is used, something specific is achieved; conversely, from the speaker's point of view, these effects can serve as a motive for resorting to such an expression. A single such linguistic effect does not necessarily have to be isolated from the others as a motive and solely responsible for the use of a euphemism. Most of the time, the functions of euphemisms cannot be clearly separated from one another; a certain motif often dominates.

In many cases, instead of the actual designation for a person, thing or matter, euphemistic substitute expressions are used mainly for the purpose of upgrading. This means that what is designated can either be deliberately appreciated or put in a better light, or the person or group of people associated with it is shown courtesy and appreciation. Such is the case with the linguistic norms of political correctness .
Mitigation and protection
Euphemisms can have a weakening effect and make what is said appear less drastic. This kind of use is gentle on the feelings of the person addressed or the speaker himself and is used where respect, consideration and courtesy are appropriate, i.e. primarily where certain social and cultural conventions and norms require such consideration.
Disguise, camouflage and cover-up
Euphemisms of this kind describe a thing or a state of affairs in such a way that what is actually meant does not appear on the word level - or at least not superficially. This is particularly the case with strict norms and taboo content or where facts are to be deliberately concealed in order, for example, to prevent public outrage, for example in the public usage of totalitarian political systems, where this means is also expressly used as a language policy measure. Because with such a way of use, a conscious influence of the addressed can ultimately take place in one's own interest.

Subject areas and areas of action

The subject areas and areas of action in which euphemisms are used are very numerous. Luchtenberg (1985) divides the areas in which euphemisms are used into the following subject groups:

  • Political use of language (with examples from foreign and domestic policy as well as the military sector and language use during the National Socialist era )
  • Economic usage (with examples from economic policy, from production, sales and employment as well as from job titles and others)
  • Social language area (with examples from different social areas regarding social norms and social misconduct)
  • Religion (with treatment of language taboos , superstitions and Christian religion)
  • Death (dying, being dead, burial and death itself)
  • Mental and psychological area (names for personal characteristics and feelings, names for "I")
  • Physical area (with examples of things related to sexuality, pregnancy and childbirth, illness and elimination, as well as body parts and other things)
  • Alcohol (with examples of names for alcohol itself, how to deal with it and for being drunk)

Among other things, the following euphemistic uses can be recorded from this subject area.

Religious and moral norms and taboos

In every human community there are taboos as well as ethical and moral norms that require a concealing or at least mitigating expression for certain things, unless there is a total ban on speaking for certain situations . Such norms can in principle affect all members of a community, such as rules of speech and behavior relating to sexuality, or they can be restricted to certain social subgroups such as social stratifications and age groups. Much of what is regarded as a norm and assigned a certain linguistic behavior can be subject to change over time, such as with regard to sexuality, hygiene measures, ideas of beauty or the type and extent of self-expression. Accordingly, it also depends on the respective epoch when a euphemism is expected and what counts as such.

The mutual relationship between euphemism and taboo is not a one-to-one relationship. So there may be a taboo in the subject area in which a euphemism is used. However, this is not mandatory, because euphemisms can also be used for other reasons. Conversely, a taboo does not necessarily have to go hand in hand with the use of euphemism, as is the case in certain social groups, in which the otherwise common taboo is not the rule. For example, lower social classes are often associated with crude ways of speaking and behavior, so that in such actual cases widespread euphemisms are often not used in the usual form. Taboos can also result in silence, denial or other avoidance behavior. This concerns, for example, taboo areas such as incest , violence in the family or homosexuality .

Religion and superstition

The original motivation to use euphemisms lies in the existence of language taboos that stem from religion and superstition. The basis for this is the belief that a word and what it means are identical, which can be seen in idioms such as “If you call the devil, he will come running away”. In order not to break such taboos according to faith, words and formulations that directly name such a topic or immediately suggest it are avoided and substitute expressions are used instead. An example of this are, for example, the "Gottseibeiuns" or "incarnate" as a designation for the devil as well as substitute names for God ("Father in Heaven", "Lord", "Almighty" etc.) and for Jesus ("Savior", "Redeemer") , "Son of man" instead of "Son of God"). Such designations are usually no longer perceived as cover words, which on the one hand can be attributed to a general dismantling of religious taboos and on the other hand is due to the fact that in the theological field such words ensure a semantic differentiation of what is designated. The euphemistic vocabulary in this area is very limited, and there are hardly any new formations that establish themselves in common linguistic usage.

In Greek mythology there are also euphemistic surnames with which deities of notorious anger should be soothed and flattered when you call them or even talk or write about them at all. The three goddesses of vengeance, Erinyes , are called “the angry ones”, but are nevertheless often inappropriately called Eumenides, “the well-meaning ones”.

Sexuality and body secretions

"Cat selling", literally "selling cats ", an English-language slang euphemism for prostitution

More or less universally, restrictive norms for naming genitals, the anus and buttocks as well as their biological functions can be found in the physical area . The taboo is often indicated by the fact that everyday words are missing that describe these body regions and functions without connotation or value. Rather, the predominant vocabulary is that it is either medical-technical, dissimilar, aloof and therefore perceived as ridiculous and inappropriate in many situations, or, on the contrary, is seen as too pejorative and vulgar. As a way out of the naming dilemma, foreign language expressions or - jokingly - childish names are used, or general localizations such as "below" or similar are used for the entire genital and anal region, which have such a clear concealing component. The term “lower abdomen” can also fulfill such a function.

But the entire sexual area brings up upgrading, camouflaging and euphemistic (but also on the contrary, a whole series of derogatory) substitute names: not only for the body parts themselves, but also for the sexual act, for masturbation, prostitution, sexually transmitted diseases, for all things and places connected with it and not least for fertility and menstruation, conception, pregnancy and childbirth. The range of this vocabulary is extremely extensive and can vary from region to region and time.

Social and cultural norms

Social groups and subgroups sometimes have their own rules and conventions that correspond to their views and living conditions. In Central European culture, this includes areas such as alcohol and alcohol consumption, the financial and social situation of a person, loyalty as a partner or age. Depending on the situation, all of these areas require considerate use of the language in order not to hurt a person's feelings or reputation. Euphemistic words and paraphrases therefore have the purpose of expressing what is to be said in a milder way and making it appear less drastic.

For example, an otherwise respected person is more likely to say (possibly behind closed doors) that he or she “drinks” than that he is “a drunkard”, which is quite the opposite as dysphemistic language. The low financial and social status of a person or group of people can also be euphemistically expressed. This is expressed, for example, in the publicly used phrase “socially weak”, which replaced the previously used word “poor”. The noun “poverty”, on the other hand, continues to be used as a designation without significant connotations: “poverty policy”, “poverty line”. From the area of ​​partnership and marriage, for example, the words “cheating” and “adultery” can be seen as conventionalized linguistic disguises for sexual intercourse outside of marriage, just as “intercourse” itself hardly reveals its euphemistic character. In order to linguistically alleviate the advanced age of a person, the so-called "absolute comparative" is often used. An “older” lady is not linguistically made older, as the word alone would suggest, but made younger (using the incremental series “young - older - old”), which relativizes old age. In the opposite case, the term “a younger gentleman” refers to the man's short life, and his lesser life experience can be linguistically faded out or this can serve as a possible explanation for a certain behavior.

A large number of glossing over social norms cover the areas of personal appearance, illness and death. A fat person is now often referred to as round, sturdy or similar. The word full-figured, which does not make sense in the actual meaning of the individual words, is also used; and the preponderance, which was originally also euphemistically considered, is often replaced by the Rubens figure . This is intended to transfer the significance of the valued works of the painter Peter Paul Rubens , on which portly women are often depicted, to the named person.

Euphemisms in obituaries: "sleeping gently", "different" or "called home"

Not only mitigation, but also a taboo character characterize the linguistic handling of serious illnesses (such as cancer, which is often linguistically reduced to the illness or not spoken at all) and with death. Numerous relevant paraphrases and substitute words can be found in parts , obituaries and obituaries. The phrase Mr A. is dead alone sounds more pious in such cases than saying that he has died. The metaphor of sleeping is also often found in the area of ​​dying , for example when someone closes his eyes forever, fell asleep gently or fell asleep; The euthanasia of animals also belongs here, although euthanasia applies purely to humans as a dysphemism.

Political Correctness

The linguistic norms under the catchphrase Political Correctness , which are also controversial depending on the political attitude, are also culturally-related and currently more frequently used for euphemistic speech . In doing so, particular care should be taken to avoid designations and statements that could contain a negative assessment of people or groups of people and their living conditions. Instead, connotation-neutral words should show the necessary respect on a linguistic level. Examples of this are, for example, the recently existing expression barrier-free for disabled people or people with special needs for disabled people, because being disabled and consequently the physical deficiencies of a person no longer appear on the linguistic level. The use of the terms for certain groups of people or peoples in their own language, such as B. Inuit instead of Eskimos or Roma and Sinti (also: Sinti and Roma) instead of Gypsies (although these two ethnic groups do not include all Gypsy tribes).

The prototypical and much strained example of the linguistic upgrading of names for population groups is in the case of dark-skinned people. Initially, the word Mohr (derived from the ethnic group name Mauren, in use since Old High German ) was used, which was later replaced by Neger (going back to Latin niger 'black', taken from French in the 17th century) and until the mid-20th century. Century was also used partially value-neutral. Based on the demands of the American civil rights movement for an unprejudiced naming of the dark-skinned population there, with which the past slavery and racial segregation should no longer be expressed, in the second half of the 20th century negroes also became in German-speaking countries  - analogous to English negro (which is closely related to the swear word nigger ) - more and more perceived as derogatory. The alternative designation colored people could not hold up. The term “ black” , which was favored in the following, can still be found many times today. The expression Afro-American , which originated in the USA, stands there as a neutral designation of origin alongside Hispanic-American and Anglo-American . Similarly, the term Afro-German is used for people of African descent living in Germany. Analogous things are not usual for Africans living in Austria. For a seminar paper from 2004 at the University of Vienna on the Upper Egyptian Moham [m] ed Medlum, who lived in Vienna at the turn of the century, the title "The Weidman-Murl ..." was deliberately chosen, with Murl, a Bavarian-Austrian diminutive of Mohr, the black one, has been connected. Like bimbo, the term Murl is still used today in the vulgar Viennese jargon.

Social reputation of occupations

Since a higher social status is generally viewed as better, on certain occasions one strives to present oneself well or better. This explains the repeated phenomenon of expressing a profession or a job title with words that enhance it. So not only did the cleaning lady experience (often only jokingly) an advancement to a room cleaner or (exclusively jokingly) to a parquet beautician, but also in legal texts the kindergarten teacher received at least one with the upgrading to kindergarten teacher or the renaming of the office assistant to the specialist for office communication higher status of importance.

While the examples mentioned are used across companies, there are also company-specific euphemisms. For example, the fast food chain Subway registered the term sandwich artist for its restaurant staff as a registered trademark .

Such euphemistic expressions, which also exist with some other professional titles, are only a special case of the many efforts to convey professional work positively, especially in formal situations or towards socially superior people.

Politically motivated camouflage

Linguistic camouflage as a superficial motive does not only exist in superstition, mythical thinking and in the field of religion, but is also used in the political field. It was of particular importance in the German-speaking area in the totalitarian systems of the 20th century. Both the National Socialist and the Communist regimes in the GDR used words to cover up ideologically significant matters. For example, resettlement or evacuation during the Nazi era should conceal the actual expulsion and murder of the Jewish population.

In the GDR, the “end-of-year celebration” was a meaningless expression for the Christian term Christmas for the winter solstice. With the official use of language, the religious aspect should be reduced in everyday language use.

Processed in fiction this type will take place from politically motivated camouflage in the novel 1984 by George Orwell , where this type of code language is called as "doublespeak". An example of linguistic reinterpretation at the highest level is the reverse code designation Ministry of Truth for an institution whose task it is to make a permanent change of facts and past events in the historical records and to adapt them to current conditions. The same naming pattern actually exists in the name Ministry of Defense, which is now regarded as completely neutral, and which replaced the former name of the Ministry of War.

Group-specific use

Euphemisms are not present to the same extent in the various language classes and speaker groups. The technical languages ​​of the various professions show less euphemistic use than the colloquial language , and in the different levels of style such as vulgar or family language use and the sophisticated language style, it is different to assess which linguistic expressions are considered euphemisms. In the following, some examples from the public, technical and special language areas are intended to illustrate a group-specific usage:

Public language area: politics

The use of glossing over language is a common phenomenon in the political sector. Specialists, the so-called spin doctors, are also used for this . In everyday political life - especially when it comes to explaining unpopular political measures or having to communicate facts - matters are wrapped in beautiful words in order to linguistically reduce their unpopularity and to keep the rejection on the part of the citizens within limits. For example, the term savings package originally had a euphemistic note, as the word package also reminds of a gift with a large loop on festive occasions and suggests something pleasant. This proportion of meaning has now been lost and the savings package or package in general has long since become a conventionalized metaphor, in that there is also talk of tying and untying savings and other packages of measures.

War and military

In everyday political life, such euphemistic idioms also exist in a number of special areas. Until well into the 20th century, neutral language use of terms that explicitly addressed warfare or war politics was accepted as relevant. In the 20th century, these terms were increasingly bypassed, as they were viewed as offensive and incriminated, and replaced by more innocuous-sounding such as defense, defense or security policies. In the 21st century, the term "weapon" received various diplomatic disguises such as "active agent".

Euphemisms such as collateral damage have almost become everyday words. In the sense used here, the word denotes the destruction of civil facilities and the killing of civilians associated with a military attack; thus the devastating act and the aggression on which it is based is reduced to something that happens on the side ( lateral = 'on the side, on the side') and thus only incidentally. The outrage of the public, when this word came up, about the cynicism that lies in this word usage, was reflected in the fact that the expression was declared the bad word of the year in Germany in 1999 . The term military strike, on the other hand, has become common in recent years as a disguising expression for wars of aggression . A telling example from this area is ethnic cleansing, which is representative of genocide or at least displacement. A current example of a euphemism in war is anti-IS .

environmental pollution

With the increased environmental and consumer awareness from the 1970s on, things were also given euphemistic expressions that indicate environmental damage and the threat to nature. For example, the stinking landfill containing objects made from non-biodegradable materials has become a connotatively neutral waste disposal park, just as the linguistic new formation dispose of itself - as a semantic counterpart to take care of - has also become a veiled expression for throw away. While the disposal park primarily benefits the operators as a gloss over, disposal also serves as a linguistic camouflage for consumers who are critical of the environment and consumption when they throw something away themselves. Because with the word dispose one justifies that by disposing of an item there is no violation of the (group-internal) norm of not belonging to the throwaway society. But even the word dispose has now lost a lot of the euphemistic and camouflaging component and has taken on everyday character.


An example from a related subject area is the use of the word core instead of atom, especially in the 1970s. Since the word atom was fraught with negative associations of dangers of various kinds (e.g. atomic bomb), the proponents of the peaceful use of nuclear power avoided the word and preferred nuclear power, nuclear energy, nuclear technology, so that it was already clear from the choice of words which Side one belonged (a slogan of the opponents, however, was nuclear power no thanks ). In addition, at this time when ecological ideas were gaining ground, the word core - although it comes from the technical jargon of physics - was reminiscent of natural products such as pome fruit and thus distracted from the unpleasant connotations of atom. On the other hand, those who use the designations with nucleus refer to the fact that this formulation is physically more precise, since the decisive processes only occur in the atomic nucleus , but not in the atomic shell .

National Socialism

Letter from Reinhard Heydrich to Undersecretary Martin Luther following the Wannsee Conference : "Fortunately, the basic line regarding the practical implementation of the final solution to the Jewish question has now been established ..."

The political language of the time of National Socialism is widely known for the intensive use of euphemisms . Often the primary motive here was camouflage, as is the case with the use of the word euthanasia . The word stands “euphemistically for: killing mentally, psychologically, physically handicapped people, with the increasing influence of the SS also healthy unadjusted people; also: killing of incapacitated concentration camp inmates ”. The much-cited example of the Final Solution, which is the short form for Final Solution to the Jewish Question and which meant the systematic murder of the Jewish population, is also generally known .

Another possibility to have a mitigating or camouflaging effect in political speech or in political reporting in the media is, for example, the use of words that are typical of a different style layer . For example, in speeches or in political reports in newspapers, instead of those words that would do justice to the political significance of a matter, expressions that appear familiar, brisk and informal and create personal closeness can be used. The consequence of this is that what has been said is taken less seriously and one feels closer to what has been said. Such is the case, for example, when people with National Socialist sentiments are casually and weakenedly referred to as Nazi Hansels. Here is the seemingly paradoxical case that a euphemistic effect (mitigation, weakening) is achieved with an actual dysphemism (derogatory colloquial expression Hansel).

An organized and consistent use of euphemisms in the political and media arena can ultimately mean actual manipulation and control of opinion. In addition to overcoming taboos, the intended influencing of others is the essential pragmatic function of euphemistic language use. This steering of the other must not only be seen from a negative point of view.

Technical usage: economy

In the field of business, too, euphemistic vocabulary is common when it comes to controversial issues such as jobs or pricing - things that are in political contexts and affect or can affect people's existence. Expressions like releasing for dismissal, because with releasing the high-quality word free or freedom and being free and the negative meaning of being dismissed is avoided, or adjusting prices and price corrections instead of price increases, because the unpopular increase is linguistically faded out becomes. A profit warning with the positive expression profit can be used to describe goals not achieved or losses.

With regard to company staff, words such as assistant and employee originally had a strongly appreciative character; they are intended to distract from the comparatively simple or less responsible job and from the subordinate position in the company hierarchy. The Austrian cabaret artist Lukas Resetarits ironically formulated in one of his programs in the 1990s as a speaking requirement for superiors: "And always say 'employees', not 'cleaning tramples'!"

Other areas in the business sector that often require glossing over the language are prices, for example. (Price) cheap and cheap for cheap bypasses the possible inferiority of the goods, or on the contrary, something better for something expensive does not reflect the financial burden on the customer. In the Central European cultural area, personal income is usually only referred to specifically in relation to people who are familiar, and in other cases it is treated with euphemistic language or is even subject to a certain language taboo. Euphemisms can also be found everywhere in advertising and in sales talks, for example perspiration instead of sweat. Certain expressions can also be avoided entirely here. For example, in the early 1970s, the word hair shine was seen as a euphemism for hair dye because at that time people often found recognizing colored hair uncomfortable. Likewise, the term toilet paper was avoided and instead talked about of crepe or the number of sheets. In the course of this, the word role often became a euphemistic substitute in everyday language.

Especially in sales talks, is often avoided stress -inducing emotive words such as price or buy speak, instead of spare phrases such as investing in a product , create money , you get it ... worked.

Special usage: soldier's language

Certain social groups use their own distinctive vocabulary with which they consciously want to stand out from the general public and which has an identifying effect on the members of this group. The soldiers language is known to them in their jargon has a rich range of actual and euphemisms that are mistaken for those of expressions. Since the field of activity of a soldier repeatedly reminds of threatening situations for life and limb, things and matters that indicate wounding and death are often named as psychological compensation in a crude, cynical or sarcastic way. In many cases it is therefore questionable whether such expressions can still be referred to as a euphemism, i.e. an actual euphemism. Many of the soldierly expressions seem to be the opposite of cacophemisms , but have the function of a euphemism, as a disguising substitute for those expressions that directly name the existence-threatening things and situations.

This jargon-like manner of speaking can also be found in the world of the military in other areas of military life than just combat. Many of the names for everyday and non-war-related matters in the soldier's profession also use other words to name them, but they are purely joking in nature and therefore cannot be considered euphemisms. Examples of such expressions erroneously thought of as euphemisms, some of which could only be used locally or for a limited period of time, are, for example, a crease-free cylinder for a steel helmet, a Salvation Army for NATO troops, a canal worker bill of lading for toilet paper or argumentation reinforcement for weapons. The expression tracked vehicle used by Bruno Kreisky for tanks should also be mentioned .

For terms relating to combat and war, words are often used that ignore the military character and the threat and danger associated with it and are therefore very well regarded as euphemisms despite their joke or cynical nature. Examples of this are continuous rain for barrels , barbecues and hand ovens for flamethrowers, metal rain for plane crashes, snowball fights for hand grenade combat and spitting for shooting, but also neutralizing the opponent for incapacitating the opponent, killing. The euphemism of falling for being killed in war has been adopted into common parlance where it has acquired the status of a technical term.

Linguistic forms of euphemism

Expressions that one does not want to use for euphemistic reasons can be circumvented or replaced in many ways. Common forms of substitution are not only paraphrases, the use of foreign words , empty formulas and metaphors as well as exaggerations and understatements, but also naming a part for the whole , using acronyms and abbreviations or puns , reduplications or ironic expressions. From this linguistic offer, for example, the following can be found:

Expressions from technical and foreign languages

The previous examples show the common variant of replacing an expression with another expression from the same language or from the same language area. In addition, word substitutions can also be made from a technical language or from a foreign language. The foreign language of expressions themselves can have an enhancing or disguising character and, on appropriate occasions, can even be used as a substitute for taboo things. For example, the Latin or Greek vocabulary for sexuality and the genitals, which comes from medical terminology, provides mitigation and concealment, for example in the case of coitus, of the penis and vagina (whereby the meaning of the latter word is often confused with that of the vulva) or of Hymen for the hymen. The semantic opposite cannot be ruled out either: For example, copulating is understood to be pejorative for the sexual act.
The suggestion made by the British Minister of Health, Anne Milton, that physicians should not refer to fat persons as obese, but deliberately as fat, in order to remove the linguistic concealment, caused a sensation Encourage the patient's sense of responsibility for their own health. A discussion about the value of the word bold was one of the consequences.

From a linguistic historical point of view, the phenomenon can be observed that many expressions that are now regarded as completely normal for taboo things such as dangerous animals, ghosts, demons and the devil, things relating to death, do not come from one's own language, but rather as euphemistic from an early age Substitutions from other, mostly neighboring languages ​​have been adopted.

The current high image of English, which is used in many areas, is well known. Expressions from the English language are often used in German today, for example in the technical field and in business, as specialist terms without any significant meaning. The term facility manager for caretaker is to be understood more jokingly , which actually refers to the facility management course. The enhancing element of English expressions comes into play when such terms from the technical language find their way into the general colloquial language , as is the case with the names that have been common for some time for functions in commercial companies. Expressions such as Chief Executive Officer for CEO or Managing Director, Customer Service Representative for customer service representative, Sales Manager for sales manager or Key Account Manager , essentially for key account manager, should, when used in German-speaking countries, demonstrate international orientation and the great importance of the company. This is why such designations are used and their euphemistic effect is exploited where a company can present itself to the general public, such as in job advertisements in daily newspapers.

Not only in business or in technology, but also in everyday language, English words often serve to emphasize and enhance what is said. Just the English pronunciation of a word such as club as club or the use of event for event, event, should make what is designated appear in a better light. You may also want to appear more international, i.e. more meaningful or more modern and contemporary. The word flyer appears much more youthful and fresher than a flyer. An example that has now become common is the use of City for the inner city. The ok for agree, which has been universally encountered for several decades , has already lost its enhancing character.

The importance of the English language today was that of French in the 18th and 19th centuries. All that remains of this to this day is the general impression that certain French words used in German are considered finer and more chosen; however, these are rarely used and other numerous French words that have already been Germanized are perceived as meaningless - if they are still perceived as foreign at all. Traces of the earlier enhancing function of French can still be seen in individual cases. For example, it is perceived as a certain discrepancy when fast food chains from the English-speaking area describe themselves as restaurants, since the word is more reminiscent of upscale dining culture than of a quick and culinary inferior meal in between.

Spelling variants

Hyper-correct spelling of "cosmetics", influenced by English, to enhance what is designated

The euphemistic effect is achieved not only through the choice of words itself, but also, in some cases, through the spelling. In many cases, an intended connotative increase can be seen in the spelling of words alone. A relatively common variant is to replace the letter K or Z with the international or foreign language-looking and as a character rounder and smoother C, such as in (now outdated) Clo for toilet with euphemistic and veiling character or as in Centrum, Circus , Cigarettes and erotic from motifs of increasing meaning. Such hyper-correct spelling variants, such as Erotic or Technic, and which can be traced back to an intended upgrading of what has been said, form a smooth transition to the hypercorrections in the actual sense (such as Dyplom instead of diploma), which arise from the assumption that you are such a spelling would correspond to a higher level of style.

Leaving out, changing and obscuring words

In addition, omitting words ( ellipses ) can also be used to gloss over or soften things. This is the case today, for example, with the use of pictograms such as the male and female symbol or the designation “00” on signs and on the doors of toilets in public areas. (The latter allegedly goes back to accommodation establishments which, in addition to the room numbers, have given the general toilets on one floor the door number 0 or 00.)

Euphemistically motivated omission of words existed in earlier times (and still exists in certain contexts today) in written conversation. For example, as was customary at the time, Joseph Haydn very often refrained from using the word I in his letters for reasons of courtesy , as this was viewed as too strict and egocentric when speaking respectfully. This phenomenon is attributed to a magical taboo of language and can be found in the rule, which is still occasionally followed today, not to begin with me in conventional letters . The use of we and the impersonal es (“there are mistakes in your work” instead of “I have found mistakes” or “you have made mistakes”) and other stylistic processes are based on avoiding me  - also on other communicative occasions - or due to an intended mitigation of a linguistic attack.

The formation of abbreviations in different variants can also be seen as a form of omission. Acronyms such as WC for water closet and BH for brassiere or the expression bra, which is commonly used in the English-speaking world, as an abbreviated form of the French word brassiere for brassiere, were created for euphemistic reasons.

Other variants of omissions are the use of dots, asterisks or dashes instead of the actual letters in offensive words such as “Do you want to fi *** n?” Or the use of a constant high tone as a substitute for indecent expressions in spoken words Recordings of what can occasionally be found on television, for example in a soap opera .

Changing words for euphemistic purposes takes different forms. For example, a diminutive can not only denote a thing in a smaller version, but at the same time reduce the connotative effects associated with the word. The buttocks or buttocks as a name for the buttocks, originated from the Latin word podex buttocks , can be reduced to a Popscherl and belittled.

Also phonetic changes, contamination or other changes of words can be used as euphemisms, because this one utterance of the actual names is avoided. Such is to be found, for example, due to language taboos in the religious field with curses (sapperment for sacrament) and other occasions (Herrjemine as contamination from Herr Jesu's domine ).

Consequences of the use of euphemisms

The repeated use of euphemisms can have certain consequences for the meanings of the words concerned and the word inventory of a language in general.

Semantic changes


The linguistic thesis of the euphemism treadmill states that every euphemism at some point takes on the negative connotations of its predecessor expression, in other words that the enhancing, glossing over or camouflaging character of the expression will be lost sooner or later. The euphemism is then often even perceived as irony or cynicism, in any case its effect wears off. The expression used euphemistically is thus subject to pejoration , i.e. a deterioration in meaning. The period in which this takes place varies from case to case. A current example of this process is the word erotic, which today on the one hand still denotes sensitive sensual pleasure (erotic art), but on the other hand is increasingly used as a synonym for sex and pornography (erotic magazine, erotic films). With the repeated camouflaging of the (publicly frowned upon) pornographic and its upgrading to eroticism, the words erotic and erotic experience a derogatory shift in meaning sooner or later. - The same process can currently be seen in Adventure and Experience. These words are used so much by the tourism industry for the purpose of upgrading their offers (adventure vacation, amusement park, etc.) that the intensity of adventure and experience decreases sharply and the words are hardly sufficient to denote true adventures and experiences.

In the course of reducing the camouflaging or enhancing function of a euphemism, the corresponding expression can simply become connotatively neutral over time. The word bear, which was originally used in Old High German with the meaning of brown as a camouflaging euphemism for this wild creature, is today an animal designation without any significant connotations or accompanying feelings. Another example is the word enlightenment used in the political-military field (also as Part of a composition like in a reconnaissance plane). Originally as a camouflaging euphemism for espionage (or spy plane), the word was supposed to cover up one's own espionage activity, since the negative meaning of spying was only ascribed to the political opponent. Today the word is more or less meaningless due to its frequent use in the media.

Pejorising a word that is no longer used as a euphemism can also go so far that it becomes a pejorative dysphemism. Examples of this are cripples and idiot, who originally referred to a physically or mentally handicapped person and now serve almost exclusively as swear words . The same mechanism applies, for example, to the formerly used expressions war ministry and war minister: These were taken up again in the course of the clashes between West Germany and the GDR . This is how the then Chairman of the GDR State Council, Walter Ulbricht, described the West German Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss as Minister of War, and current uses of this word can also be found in this sense. Such a way of speaking is reinforced by the generally negative assessment of war.

Pull chains

As a result of such a semantic decline in euphemistically used words, another expression is necessary in many cases, which - if this is necessary due to social circumstances - continues to take on the euphemistic role. In this way whole chains of euphemistically used expressions can arise. These are technically referred to as pull chains , since the pejorisation of a euphemistic expression - in order to maintain the euphemistic character - makes the enhancing use of another linguistic expression necessary and figuratively entails. For example (analogous to the process in the case of the Moors and Negroes) the originally savages were first replaced by natives, then by indigenous people and are now referred to as indigenous populations . (The word indigenous - taken from the English indigenous and also used in Latin America in the form indígenas for the indigenous population - but also only means native, indigenous .) A euphemistic chain that also develops relatively quickly is the term cripple - handicapped - People with special needs or the series of idiot / feeble-minded - madman - mentally ill / mentally disturbed - otherwise qualified person for disabled people.

Changes in vocabulary

The constant use of a euphemistic expression can have the effect that the original name is no longer used at all and subsequently disappears from the vocabulary of a language: Privet for the toilet or Valant for the devil are now considered lost words. Even the toilet toilet is rarely used today.

The demise of such words is accelerated by the fact that their infrequent use simply makes them appear outdated and out of fashion. However, expressions that are avoided for reasons of political correctness are subject to a certain language taboo, as is currently the case with the terms negro and, to a certain extent, gypsies. While gypsies are still allowed to exist in combinations such as gypsy schnitzel and gypsy romance , attempts are being made to take black bread (an Austrian product made from chocolate and peanuts) out of the trade because of its racially interpreted name, or the sweet “ Mohr im Shirt ” in “chocolate cup” or “cocoa cup” “To be renamed. In addition, the "Negro kiss" is sometimes renamed the harmless-sounding chocolate kiss . The negro biscuit is still a common trade term in Germany for a cleaning disc for angle grinders .

The terms “racial hygiene” and “cleansing” are also regarded as euphemisms .

Euphemism as a universal phenomenon

Euphemistic usage can be found in many languages. In human communication, it is not individual words or a specific individual language , but rather factors that lie outside the language that are responsible for how one appears linguistically in certain situations. Such extra-lingual factors, which may require euphemistic speech, are particularly significant

  • Characteristics of the human nature: the ability to religiously believe, the perception of taboos, the ability to empathize with others, etc.
  • Perception of life: conception and beginning of life, threat to life, end of life
  • Human appearance in society: integrity, cleanliness, decency, dignity and prestige
  • personal and collective assessment and behavior: consumption of intoxicating foods and foods, behavior in couples, behavior towards members of one's own community and towards strangers.
  • Personal attitudes, attitudes and intentions: piety and faith, prudery, tolerance, willful influence on others.

The consideration of all such circumstances therefore makes euphemistic use of language in the same areas a universally encountered phenomenon.


  • Keith Allan, Kate Burridge: Euphemism & Dysphemism. Language Used as Shield and Weapon . Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford 1991, ISBN 0-19-506622-7 (English).
  • Keith Allan, Kate Burridge: Forbidden Words. Taboo and the Censoring of Language . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2007, ISBN 978-0-521-52564-0 (English).
  • Michael Crombach: Euphemism and Taboo . Phil. Diss., Salzburg 2001.
  • Wilhelm Havers: Newer literature on language taboo . Rudolf M. Rohrer, Vienna 1946.
  • RW Holder: A dictionary of euphemisms . Oxford University Press, Oxford 1995, ISBN 0-19-869275-7 (English).
  • Elisabeth Leinfellner: The euphemism in political language . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1971, ISBN 3-428-02536-9 (elaborated version of a font that was created on the occasion of a competition of the German Academy for Language and Poetry in 1968).
  • Sigrid Luchtenberg: Euphemisms in German today . With a contribution to German as a foreign language. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-8204-5419-5 (Dissertation: University of Bonn 1975 under the title: Sigrid Luchtenberg: Investigation of euphemisms in contemporary German ).
  • Roberta Rada: Taboos and euphemisms in contemporary German . With special consideration of the properties of euphemisms. Akad. Kiadó, Budapest 2001, ISBN 963-05-7817-4 (Dissertation: University of Budapest).
  • Ursula Reutner: Language and Taboo. Interpretations on French and Italian euphemisms . Niemeyer, Tübingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-484-52346-3 .
  • Reinhard Schlueter : The sheep in the word fur. Lexicon of underhand glossiness . Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-8218-5709-1 .
  • Reinhard Schlueter : Schönsprech. How politics and the lobby tell us the blue sky . Riemann, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-570-50176-4 .
  • Nicole Zöllner: The euphemism in the everyday and political usage of English . Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-631-31653-4 (Dissertation: Universität Hamburg 1997).

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: euphemism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Cover  word - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilhelm Gemoll: Greek-German school and hand dictionary. Munich / Vienna 1965.
  2. Luchtenberg (1985) and Zöllner (1997) differentiate between "veiling" and "veiling" in such a way that a verbal veiling is also aware of the addressed person, while a disguise of a circumstance by means of euphemisms should not recognize the addressed person.
  3. Sigrid Luchtenberg: Euphemismen im heute Deutsch 1985 offers a comprehensive overview and a broad understanding of the term euphemism .
  4. The representation does not follow Luchtenberg's scheme.
  5. See Luchtenberg 1985, 91 f.
  6. Erinnyes. ( Memento of March 27, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) by Nick Pontikis (English)
  7. A related collection is: Ernest Bornemann: Sex im Volksmund. The obscene vocabulary of the Germans. 2 volumes, Rowohlt, Reinbek 1974. There are also newer editions under other titles.
  8. Cf. Duden: The Grammar. 6th edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim 1998, rule 514.
  9. The word Vollschlank originated at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, when full , coming from business language, generally expressed an intensification, such as in the words full milk, full steam or full content that are still common today. Cf. Lutz Mackensen : The German language of our time . Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg 1956, p. 74.
  10. ^ Etymological dictionary of German , developed under the direction of Wolfgang Pfeifer, 7th edition. dtv, Munich 2004.
  11. See ibid.
  12. For example in a newspaper report: “In a hospital in Rochester, New York, a thirty-eight year old negress gave birth to twins for the sixth time. [...] The negress's chances of becoming the mother of twins for the sixth time were 1: 433.626,201.009. "(In: " Arbeiter-Zeitung ", December 29, 1959, p. 5. )
  13. accessed on January 17, 2015.
  14. accessed on January 20, 2015.
  15. Cf. the linguistic thesis of the conceptual metaphor, in particular the basic metaphor “up is better”, in: George Lakoff, Mark Johnson: Life in Metaphors . Carl Auer, Heidelberg 1998, ISBN 3-89670-108-8 .
  16. See the Austrian legal regulation “ Curriculum of the College for Kindergarten Pedagogy ”, Legal Information System (RIS), accessed on August 30, 2010.
  17. SANDWICH ARTIST Trademark Information on
  18. ^ Marieke Reimann: Christmas in the GDR. In: . December 23, 2015, accessed October 3, 2018 .
  19. See Zöllner 1997, p. 347 ff.
  20. Keyword economy package. In: Oswald Panagl , Peter Gerlich (Hrsg.): Dictionary of political language in Austria. Österreichischer Bundesverlag, Vienna 2007.
  21. .
  23. MDR broadcast, June 2017
  24. On the usage of nuclear technology, cf. Hartmut Gründler: Nuclear energy advertising. The linguistic packaging of atomic energy - From the dictionary of thought. In: Hans Jürgen Heringer (ed.): Wood fire in the wooden stove. Essays on political language criticism. Narr, Tübingen 1982, ISBN 3-87808-965-1 .
  25. Manfred Köhler: "Nuclear Power" or "Nuclear Power"? : The Battle for Words , , April 23, 2010
  26. There is a large amount of specialist literature on this. A prominent example of the description at the word level is: Cornelia Schmitz-Berning: Vocabulary of National Socialism. De Gruyter, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-11-013379-2 or as paperback edition 2nd edition. 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-019549-1 (In this annotated lexicon, euphemisms make up only a small part of the word descriptions). See also LTI - a philologist's notebook .
  27. Cornelia Schmitz-Berning: Vocabulary of National Socialism. De Gruyter, Berlin 1998.
  28. Helmut Gruber, Ruth Wodak: Austria and his "Nazi Hanseln". On the mass media dealing with neo-Nazism and the Auschwitz lie in Austria's highest-circulation daily newspaper. In: Ruth Reiher (Ed.): Language in conflict. de Gruyter, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-11-013958-8 , pp. 391-417.
  29. Luchtenberg 1985, p. 179 ff .; Quote p. 181.
  30. Lukas Resetarits: "Alles zurück", 1995.
  31. a b Cf. Ruth Römer: The language of advertising. 5th edition. Schwann, Düsseldorf 1976, ISBN 3-590-15604-X , p. 195.
  32. All in all, the military vocabulary has been very pictorial, original, rich in variable expressions for centuries, and it relates to more or less all areas of life for army members. A clear demarcation of the soldiers' vocabulary from other special languages ​​such as that of schoolchildren and young people was and is often difficult to achieve even today. The fact that linguistic glossing over and veiling cannot be limited to a sharply defined field of activity of soldiers also fits into this picture of an all-encompassing special way of expressing and naming. Compare with Paul Horn: The German soldier language. second cheap edition. Töpelmann, Giessen 1905.
  33. These and the following examples were taken from , accessed on February 13, 2010.
  34. Cf. accessed on January 19, 2015.
  35. Nicole Zöllner: The euphemism in the everyday and political use of English. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-631-31653-4 , chap. 5.
  36. a b cf. Havers 1946, p. 128 ff.
  37. See the BBC report of July 28, 2010, the comment in the "Guardian" of August 1, 2010, the comment in the 'Independent' of August 1, 2010 and the ORF report of August 14, 2010.
  38. This is just a current example of the enhancing use of language in business language, which penetrates everyday language. Examples from earlier times that follow the same pattern can be found in Lutz Mackensen: The German Language of Our Time. Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg 1956, chap. IV: Business and colloquial language.
  39. This could be countered with the objection that flyers often differ greatly from conventional leaflets in terms of shape and visual design and that a separate name is therefore appropriate for them. As a media genre, however, they are identical.
  40. Circus can be seen as a genuinely Latin form or as internationalism . (The word was adopted into German in the 18th century, probably influenced by mutual influence from the French cirque and the English circus .) The C in cigarettes and cigars is also a relic from the languages ​​of origin (cigars from Spanish in the 18th century, cigarettes from French in the 19th century). With the retention of the C from the source languages, the special meaning of the matter should be expressed. Erotic (coming from French in the 19th century and analogous to other words with k ) has only been found since the end of the 20th century under the influence of English with c at the end of the word. (For the etymological information see Etymological Dictionary of German. Developed under the direction of Wolfgang Pfeifer, 7th edition. Dtv, Munich 2004)
  41. See, for example, Joseph Haydn: Gesammelte Letters and Notes, ed. v. Dénes Bartha . Bärenreiter, Kassel 1965.
  42. See Luchtenberg 1985, 104 f.
  43. Keith Allen, Kate Burridge: Euphemism and Dysphemism. Oxford 1991, p. 19.
  44. The word podex is derived from the Latin verb pedere 'fart' and actually means 'the farther'. Whether the word was first adopted into German (possibly via Latin schools) as a euphemistic or a purely joking expression is not recorded in the etymological dictionaries. The word form Popo is understood as a word from wet nurse language in the form of a shortening of the Latin word with simultaneous doubling of the shortened expression. It can be traced back to the 17th century. The short form Po emerged from this in the course of a euphemistic renewal in the 20th century. See also Etymological Dictionary of German. developed under the direction of Wolfgang Pfeifer. 7th edition. dtv, Munich 2004; Smart. Etymological dictionary of the German language. edit v. Elmar Seebold. 24th edition. de Gruyter, Berlin 2002; Duden: The dictionary of origin. Etymology of the German language. 2nd Edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim 1989. On the diminutive variant Popsch (erl) cf. Crombach 2001.
  45. See Havers 1946.
  46. See Luchtenberg 1985.
  47. For example, in a speech on the occasion of the construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961. See rule through language. Political speeches. Stuttgart: Reclam 2005 (= Reclams Universal Library No. 9501), ISBN 3-15-009501-8 , p. 103.
  48. A web search on for the phrase War Minister Rumsfeld for the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld , on April 21, 2010 for the entire German-speaking area resulted in 182 real hits, a search for the phrase War Minister Karl -Theodor zu Gutenberg on found 328 real hits on March 22, 2011.
  49. The N… bread uprising . , February 25, 2012, accessed on February 26, 2012.
  50. "Meinl-Mohr - Symbol of Racism?" , Article in the press on December 18, 2007.
  51. Cleaning disc for angle grinders ( Memento from December 20, 2013 in the Internet Archive ). Retrieved February 26, 2012.
  52. For example, Leinfellner (1971) brings innumerable examples of political euphemisms from the Anglo-Saxon-speaking area and the works of the Australian authors Allen and Burridge (see literature) describe in detail the nature of the euphemism on the basis of English-language and (marginally) other-language evidence from various areas. Furthermore, countless linguistic-historical examples of substitute terms for taboo items from many Indo-European languages ​​in Europe and Asia can be found in Havers (1946).
    Also: "Euphemism is a compensation strategy peculiar to all natural languages , with the help of which taboo words can be circumvented." ( Zöllner 1997, p. 54 )