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A euphemism is the substitution of a more favourable term for another expression.

For example, 'adult entertainment' is a euphemism for 'pornography' and 'rest room' is a euphemism for 'toilet', even though one doesn't go there to 'rest'. (In fact, the word 'toilet' is a euphemism itself for a dressing room which also contained the appropriate bathroom feature. 'Wash room' is a more accurate alternative term.)

Innocuous sounding euphemisms can usefully avoid causing offence, but they can also be abused.

Euphemisms can sanitize things or conceal realities, which, however harsh, should be exposed. Hitler's euphemism for genocide was 'final solution' and from the outset of the much later wars in Afghanistan and Iraq several notable examples appeared.

Saying a toilet is a place for resting is just silly, but using euphemisms to conceal the evils of war is obscene.

Attack and defence are opposites, but we often use the word 'defence' as a euphemism for war. Euphemisms can desensitize mass killing, prevent shareholders from pulling their support away from the arms industry, and enable politicians and voters sleep at night.

We say:We mean:
defence expedituremilitary spending
military interventionuse of deadly force
armed servicespeople we pay to do our killing
boots on the groundsons sent out to kill people
security contractorshigher paid killers
enhanced debriefing techniquestorture
liberating the oppresseda convenient term to secure public support for invading nations that happen to have our oil under their sand, thereby correcting God's geological mistake
Operation Iraqi Freedomliberating the oppressed (see above) before the Chinese get there. Make sure also that we all get a campaign medal, including cooks and pay clerks.
reconstructionany means employed to generate and sustain cycles of violence, so that billions of our tax dollars can be handed to US companies; a short-term business view that disregards the risk that cycles of mass violence might well lead to nuclear terrorism sooner rather than later
unpatrioticunafraid to follow one's conscience
a just warinvading a country that has a wicked ruler or a country which you think might attack you one day, even though the United Nations Charter specifically forbids such pre-emptive action (This rule was originally written at the behest of the United States)
(The origin of the phrase "just war" is quite interesting.)
war criminalone who breaks international law, unless they happen to be a leader of a rich and powerful country
theatredeath zone
Critical Incident Stress Management Unitmental health workers who treat morgue staff
Health Alteration CommitteeCIA's department of assassins, c.1960
incontinent ordnancea missile that goes off target, potentially killing civilians
soft targetsdefenseless people to be killed; encouraging those who survive to retaliate, thereby prolonging 'reconstruction' (see above)
clean upkill anyone who hasn't managed to run to safety
collateral damagepeople killed
body countthe number of people killed
surgical strikekill people
encounterkill people
neutralisekill people
engagekill people
contactkill people
regime changekill many more people than the regime killed
stay the coursekill people
kill people(term not used)

... and so the list goes on. As Timothy Lynch says: "By corrupting language, the people who wield power are able to fool the others about their activities and evade responsibility and accountability." 

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, there will be peace. Then we won't need these euphemisms.

English quirks index

There's a tradition in the theatre where people refrain from uttering the name 'Macbeth', since that is a name of ill-omen. Instead, they use the euphemism 'The Scottish Play' and by doing so, fall victim of bowing to superstition.


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