What is Euphemism? Meaning & Examples from Film and TV

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Definition: A euphemism is a mild or indirect word or expression that is used instead of one that may be considered harsh, blunt, or offensive. Euphemisms are often employed to substitute more socially acceptable terms for sensitive or uncomfortable topics.

Euphemisms are used in everyday language to soften the impact or to create emotional distance fx when speaking about death and taboo subjects. Or it can simply be used out of politeness.

Common euphemisms are also often found in movie dialogue – either intentionally to make the characters more interesting or distinct – or unintentionally because the euphemism has become cliché.

Here are ten examples of common euphemisms:

  1. “Passed away” instead of “died”
  2. “Let go” instead of “fired”
  3. Gentlemen’s Club” instead of “strip club”
  4. “Senior citizen” instead of “old person”
  5. “Correctional facility” instead of “prison”
  6. “Pre-owned” instead of “used”
  7. “Visually impaired” instead of “blind”
  8. “Under the weather” instead of “sick”
  9. “Ethnic cleansing” instead of “genocide”
  10. “Collateral damage” instead of “civilian casualties”

Examples of Euphemisms in TV and Movies

In film and TV shows, euphemisms are often used to make dialogue more palatable for sensitive audiences or to convey difficult or taboo subjects more subtly.

But sometimes you can find euphemisms even in the movie title, e.g. in the movie “Friends with Benefits” (2011), which is a euphemism for friends who are “intimately involved” (another euphemism for “having sex”).

It can also be used to great comedic effect.

Gilmore Girls (S02E08): “Eventually we’re all going to take the same long vacation.”

Lorelei and Sookie learn that the Independence Inn may be sold by Mia, so they use euphemisms to ask Fran Westin about her thoughts regarding selling the Dragonfly Inn when she dies.

Here, the euphemisms “long vacation” and “forever” are used to refer to the inevitable end of life.

It’s a lighthearted way to discuss a heavy topic, adding a touch of humor to the conversation

South Park (S1EP01): “You’re not fat, you’re big-boned”

In this very first episode of South Park, Eric Cartman is pissed off because all the kids at school called him fat.

Eric’s mom, Liane Cartman, tries to calm him down with a “powdered donut pancake Surprise” and the euphemism, “You’re not fat, you’re big-boned”.

Grease (1978): “Hey, Rizzo’s got a bun in the oven”

In this hilarious clip from the movie Grease, Rizz admits to Marty, that she’s pregnant.

Marty promises not to tell anyone, which she fails miserably as she accidentally reveals it to Sonny the moment after they’ve left the women’s toilet at the drive-in theatre.

This leads Rizzo to spread the news with the guys with the euphemism: “Hey, Rizzo’s got a bun in the oven”.

The Godfather (1972): “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”

The quote “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” spoken by the character Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), a powerful and influential mafia boss, is a euphemism for threatening someone.

This euphemism is a way of saying that the person will be forced to comply with the request, whether they like it or not, due to the implied threat of violence or other negative repercussions.

The line has become synonymous with coercion and intimidation, reflecting the ruthless and manipulative nature of the character Vito Corleone in the movie.

Shaun of the Dead (2004): “You’ve got red on you.”

In the movie “Shaun of the Dead,” the euphemism “you’ve got red on you” is used to subtly point out when someone has blood on them from killing a zombie.

It serves as a comedic way to address the grim situation of a zombie apocalypse without directly mentioning the violence involved.

Conclusion

Euphemisms in film and TV shows serve various purposes, such as adding humor, softening harsh realities, or conveying complex emotions in a more palatable manner.

The use of euphemisms can help maintain a level of decorum, accessibility, and relatability for audiences.

However, they may also have drawbacks, such as potentially diluting the impact of a message or perpetuating societal taboos.

Overall, the use of euphemisms in film is a nuanced tool that screenwriters can employ to navigate sensitive topics and engage with audiences effectively.

Up Next: What is Vernacular Language in Film?

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  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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