Euphemisms are a lot fun and tackle a wide variety of topics from hangovers and sex to death and even visiting the toilet — topics that are not always socially acceptable or are sensitive in nature. Euphemism usually take three forms (though there are hybrids): phonetic modification, e.g., “frak” from the original Battlestar Galactica, which was used to escape the late-70s censors, “oh my gosh,” “h.e. double hockey sticks,” etc.; figures of speech, e.g., “passed away,” “riding the crimson pony,” etc.; and finally, slang, e.g., “couch potato” instead of calling someone lazy or “waste (them)” meaning to kill them.
I have a character who is quite fond of euphemisms or old sayings, many of which are cliche, but I keep them because it is just his character: He is purposely grabbing the cliches, mainly because those are the tidbits of euphemisms he has heard. Why? Because time after time real people turn to the cliche in everyday conversation. Other characters, however, are a bit more creative with their euphemisms and slang. And it is good to have that variety of old vs. new.
Let’s face it euphemisms offer an endless variety that can add flavor to a manuscript or character, especially when you consider that each culture, from countries to different military branches, each have their own sayings and slang. In some cases, particularly the military example, it can bring added realism. Euphemisms can can be humorous, they can be endearing: The possibilities are endless really. Just like they are not limited to certain writing situations or genres.
Historical fiction has some perks as there are a lot of colorful slang and euphemism roaming through the curtains of history; you merely have to pick a time period and start digging. Did you know basket-making has a very different meaning in 19th century England vocabulary? Or that in China “the bitten peach” or “the passion of the cut sleeve” were both terms referring to homosexuality?
SciFi and fantasy writers can have bonus fun with euphemisms and slang because they can make their own to reflect the cultures and societies that live in their worlds; however, they have to be careful because the euphemisms still has to be translatable to their readers … of course, this can often be managed by providing context.
And of course with all things, use slang and euphemisms in moderation and with purpose!
Want to explore more euphemisms? Visit these links:
- Euphemisms for death
- The Walking Dead euphemism generator
- Online Slang Dictionary
- Euphemisms: Making murder respectable
And of course there is this fun skit from Robot Chicken, which uses several euphemisms (WARNING: Some swearing and violence, albeit cartoon violence):