Euphemisms: Concealing Reality

As a little girl, I didn’t like the carrots we had. Maybe they were old and I didn’t know what fresh carrots tasted like, but I didn’t enjoy eating them. Knowing they were good for me, to get them down, I dipped them in Miracle Whip (I didn’t know about mayonnaise until I was an adult). Eating Brussel sprouts required a similar approach: doused in melted butter with cashews. I’m so glad I love eating carrots and Brussel sprouts today — without their “sugarcoating” to make them palatable.

As a young adult in the working world, I heard about people getting their “pink slip” or “walking papers”. Those terms morphed to people getting “downsized” or “let go”. I wondered why nobody talked about these people getting fired. I mean, isn’t that what all of those terms were really saying? It seemed so confusing to me.

People talk about death in similarly confusing ways. I hear references to people (and pets, for that matter) crossing the “rainbow bridge”, “passing”, or “going home to Jesus” or God. Pets are “put to sleep” or “put down”. The references are still so confusing to me.

What’s with euphemisms?

Euphemisms can be sugarcoating for the unpleasant events in our lives. Ok. I get that, sorta. If the euphemisms for unpleasant things confuse me, don’t they confuse others, too?

Personally, I prefer facing situations directly. In some ways, the more unpleasant the situation the more clear I want to have the communication about it. Fuzzy communication, which I think euphemisms create, can make people more perplexed about what’s happening or what happened. Is the unemployment temporary or permanent? What if the person who died isn’t Christian or even religious? Did they still “go home to Jesus” or God?

When you face an unpleasant situation in plain English, you start dealing with the consequences sooner. The sooner you face the situation, the sooner you can start looking for work, healing, or whatever needs to happen for you.

Death is kept more distant from us these days than it was historically. In some parts of the world, sick and dying family members are kept at home to be tended to by family. They die in the living room or in some common area family space. It was that way in the U.S. at one time too, and it still can be a practice by some families or communities. When we live with death, it’s not so scary, unpleasant, or shocking. People who live with death get on with their lives sooner. And I bet they also speak more directly about their loved one’s death.

Has the change in how close — or far — we keep death from our daily lives also changed how we respond to other unpleasant situations, say like being fired or having a miscarriage? I had a friend who was “laid off” from his job, thinking it was a temporary situation. It was only later, when he called to find out when they’d start up again and he could come back to work, that he learned he’d been fired. That friend could have approached his unemployment very differently than he did if they’d been clear with him. His pain was magnified and extended because of the fuzzy terms. I know being “fired” sounds harsh and has a sense of blame and inadequacy about it which makes us shy of using the term. Nonetheless, it’s time to clear the terminology, though, and speak clearly.


“Until COVID” is another euphemism I’m hearing these days. Friends who are looking for work run into that detail in job postings. It’s connected to where the employee is physically located “until COVID”. Yes, a conversation is needed to clarify that term. Maybe the ads are by-the-word pricing so they are being abbreviated but pointing to a conversation topic. It seems to raise anxiety and confusion for the job seekers, though. That’s not necessary.

Years ago, during my B&B innkeeper days, I was staying in Baltimore for several nights so took time out from family to stay at a bed and breakfast. I chose it because it had a string quartet that played during the social hour. We arrived at the end of the social hour and found no musicians or socializing by guests. When I expressed disappointment, the innkeeper explained I’d just missed them. So the next day I diligently arrived at the beginning of the social hour. No music or socializing. I expressed surprise and confusion. The innkeeper repeated, this time with an exasperated tone, that I’d “just missed them”. Eventually, it came out that the music and social hour are only scheduled over a few weeks during the summer. That euphemism taught me to be clear with my guests — and in my marketing.

Living with clarity in your thinking and words raises your peace and energy. Drop the euphemisms, especially when it comes to challenging situations. Help others understand what’s going on, what’s really happening. The reality may be hard and cold, but that passes more quickly than when the situation is wrapped in confusing words, leaving the reality to arise time and again.


The follow-up article with video: Euphemisms and Biology

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