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Euphemisms, on the other hand, are used to obfuscate the actual meaning of a word. For example, intercourse is a synonym for sex, while diddle is a euphemism.

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euphemism-pictureToday’s English is loaded with euphemisms for delicate subjects. They’re often used in polite society to avoid appearing uncivilized. But don’t confuse them with synonyms. A synonym is a word replacement that has the same or very similar meaning to the original word. They are often used to enrich prose and clarify meaning. Euphemisms, on the other hand, are used to obfuscate the actual meaning of a word. For example, intercourse is a synonym for sex, while diddle is a euphemism.

It can be difficult to understate the “true” meaning of a euphemism unless it’s been widely used over a long period. Eventually, euphemisms lose their impact like a punch-drunk fighter, which of course is a simile.

Benjamin Franklin was a student of many intellectual disciplines, language being one of them. In the 1730s he published a list of 227 euphemisms and 1 synonym for a common vice of his day. The vice is as common now as it was then but tolerated better today. I’ve shared twenty of the euphemistic phrases and words below–the synonym would have let the cat out of the bag: metaphor. Can you identify the vice?

  1. Affected
  2. Biggy
  3. Cock’d
  4. Has killed a dog
  5. Prince Eugene
  6. Frogs for breakfast
  7. Got a kick in the gut
  8. Hammerish
  9. Jagged
  10. Got kibed heels
  11. Makes indentures with his legs
  12. Seen a flock of moons
  13. Nimtopsical
  14. Smelt an onion
  15. Pungy
  16. Like a rat in trouble
  17. Burnt his shoulder
  18. Tanned
  19. Makes Virginia fame
  20. Wise

There is a subtle, some might say obscure, hint in the opening. If you want the answer, post your guess in the comment field here or on Facebook, and I’ll let you know if you’re correct.


(c) 2017 David P. Cantrell