I feel that euphemisms are a function of how society views certain aspects of life and feels that they should not be talked about directly. So are there languages with no euphemisms?

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    I feel like this is more of a cultural question than a linguistic one. Euphemisms do not require their language to accomodate them. Euphemisms rely on a person's understanding that A is a less extreme version of B, regardless of the language of the words.
    – Flater
    Mar 28, 2019 at 14:33
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    Whether a word is currently being used as a euphemism might be arguable and culturally dependent. Wiktionary says this about toilet: "From Middle French toilette ('small cloth')...from their use to protect clothing while shaving or arranging hair. Toilet came to refer euphemistically to lavatories and then to its fixtures." Is toilet still a euphemism? I would guess that, to most US English speakers, a "toilet" is a fixture for receiving excrement and its euphemistic sense has been lost. This is why phrase "eau de toilette" used in perfume commercials is funny to me. Mar 28, 2019 at 18:55
  • ...at the very opposite end of the spectrum (and a little off-topic), waaay past "water closet" territory, I'm reminded of the Star Trek episode "Darmok", where the alien species speaks entirely in allegory (eg “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” == "working together"). In this case, it's entirely possible to construct a language without (active) verbs (blurring cultural & linguistic).
    – michael
    Mar 29, 2019 at 4:15
  • There are some languages which may fall into this category, but which not enough is known to say for sure, without talking to the few experts. I am thinking specifically of Pirahã. I would not be at all surprised to find that Pirahã does not have euphemisms.
    – Chozang
    Mar 29, 2019 at 15:13

4 Answers 4


Their presence across all known world languages constitutes a linguistic universal according to research from Allan and Burridge (1991) Refer to this article here. And to this paper, here

As @Wilson interestingly points out, it's not easy to say, "There exists one", also because, where do you draw a line and say this particular saying is not a Euphemism for something slightly more taboo. Since there is no scale, no definite measure. All languages will mostly have some sort of euphemism construction.

Unless they are artificial languages or very specific sociolect (like in a precision field like surgery), where you have to be totally clear about the point you are making and slight confusion can make a lot of deprecation.


I feel like this is more of a cultural question than a linguistic one.

Euphemisms do not require the currently spoken language to accommodate them. Euphemisms rely on a person's understanding that A is a less extreme version of B, regardless of the language of the words that are being spoken.

The only way you could have a language where a particular euphemism doesn't work is if that language simply never defines the word that the speaker wishes to use. But that still doesn't mean that the speaker is incapable of using any euphemisms.

Even in a strict context which doesn't allow for nuance, you can be euphemistic. Imagine a world of mathematics where being a "circle" is considered as offensive language. I could still introduce euphemisms by saying things like:

Tommy is an n-gon with a [particular size of] n.

All I need to change to nuance my euphemism is change my statement about how big the value of n is.

Anyone who understands the existence of euphemisms (which is a cultural thing) will understand that I'm trying to get away with calling Tommy a circle (or close to it) without saying so.


It's hard to answer a question with a definite negative, since that leaves the possibility open for someone to come along later and say, "I know an example which disproves your position".

But I think that naturally occurring human languages are all going to have euphemisms, since humans seem to like that.

The only languages I know which do not have euphemisms are ones which are designed to be unambiguous. They include Lojban and SQL.

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    "Little Johnny Lobjan never uses euphemisms," said the teacher. "He's so... so... unambiguous." :) Mar 28, 2019 at 11:14
  • Of course a euphemism is kind of an ambiguity, right? As in, is she actually powdering her nose or has she really gone for a slash like everyone believes? Mar 28, 2019 at 11:17
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    @Wilson: euphemism is replacing an unpleasant word or phrase with a neutral one which might or might not change the face meaning. Egg is a chicken fruit after all. And one could argue that LEFT JOIN is a euphemism for LEFT OUTER JOIN because the latter is unpleasantly long to type!
    – Quassnoi
    Mar 28, 2019 at 13:14
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    @Wilson To be unambiguous, is that an ASCII code 47 or 92 slash?
    – Graham
    Mar 28, 2019 at 21:46
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    Yeah, TRUNCATE is definitely a euphemism in SQL. Since when has destroying something's entire contents been known as truncating? Have we ever heard Mr Trump threatening to "truncate" North Korea? Mar 28, 2019 at 23:29

If I say, "you know best", I mean you are wrong but I can't be bothered to offend or argue with you. This is a euphemism for the speaker but not necessarily for the listener if they do not realize they have been closed down.

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    Hi Jonathan ! Welcome the Linguistics SE . we use comments for suggestions or short definitions, The OP doesn't need to know the definition of Euphemism, it's implied when he asks a more complex question on it. Hope you find Linguistics SE nice to be on! Mar 29, 2019 at 13:58

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