What are Soft Expressions for?

As a learner of a second language, you may have noticed that culture plays a big role when it comes to language. Many English speakers don’t want to say certain words because they think that these are dirty, heavy, or too frank. So they find other ways to say the same thing that everybody from that culture understands. These alternative expressions are called euphemisms and they may be challenging for non-native speakers to understand.

First, let’s define euphemism. According to Collins English Dictionary, “it is a polite word or expression that is used to refer to things which people may find upsetting or embarrassing to talk about, for example sex, the human body, or death.”  In other words, euphemisms are polite expressions used to replace terms that might otherwise be considered too blunt, harsh, or unpleasant to hear. Euphemisms are used regularly, so let’s look at some examples below.

1) Mentally challenged / Physically challenged

When you see people in a wheelchair, or people born with defects, and are not fully functional like everyone else, we used to say “handicapped” or “disabled”. But many find this word to be offensive. It’s not a nice thing to say and it’s also not politically correct. So now we say, “they are mentally challenged” or “they are physically challenged”. We know that these people are able and can do many things, only they are limited or challenged by their condition.

2) Passed away / Did not make it

For instance, your friend had a car accident and the ambulance brought him to the Emergency Room, and then later you go see the doctor, and he says: “I am sorry he did not make it.” This means your friend died. But saying “he died” is too harsh. People generally don’t like to hear “died” because we don’t want to talk about death.

3) Little boys’ room/ Ladies’ room

If you’re in a restaurant, or in a public area, and you need to go pee, you don’t say “I need to use the toilet” because this will sound impolite, especially if people around you are eating. So if you’re a man, you say “Where is the little boys’ room?” If you’re a woman, you say “Where is the ladies’ room?”

People don’t say “toilet” because they think it’s a dirty word and would be embarrassing to mention.

4) Full-figured / Let himself go

If you want to talk about a man or woman who is fat, it’s very impolite to say that they are “fat” or “big”. People don’t like the word fat, so when you describe a woman, you can say “full-figured”. For a man you can say “he let himself go”, which means he stopped taking care of himself. Although these two expressions are not so nice, still these are softer ways of saying “fat”.

5) Previously enjoyed / Pre-loved

People buy either a brand new car or a “used” car. But then eventually they stopped using the word “used” because this means somebody else already used it, had it for its good time, and then got rid of it. This may also imply that it has some damage and may have been overused. So, instead of saying “used” we now say “previously enjoyed” to mean that somebody else enjoyed an item, and now you can enjoy it, too.  It’s still second-hand, but it was previously loved and now it’s your turn to enjoy it. This expression may also be used when referring to clothes, shoes, home appliances, and other items.

6) Laid off / between jobs

When you’re introducing a friend who is jobless, you don’t say he is “unemployed” because this is insulting and offensive. When people hear “unemployed” there’s a certain judgment about it. When you say “between jobs”, this means he’s looking for a new job. Moreover, saying “laid off” is better than saying “he lost his job” or “he was fired.”

7) [It] fell off the back of the truck / Got [it] off the back of the truck

This is when you have a brand new iPad or Macbook, and you got it for only $100 or $150. And that’s so cheap! This means you did not buy it from the store. The item was actually stolen and was sold on the street from the back of the truck. You pay in cash, you get the product, and you don’t care where it came from. All you care about is that it’s brand new and it’s very cheap. So you say, “Oh, I got it off the back of the truck.” or “Oh, it fell off the back of the truck.” You don’t want to say “it was stolen and I bought it.”

 

TRY THIS OUT!

  1. The polite way to say handicapped or disabled is ________. (a. physically challenged OR b. crippled)
  2. Mom is very sad because grandpa _________ last night.
  3. Dan got a great deal on his iPhone. It only costs half the usual price! He probably got it _____________.
  4. I saw Kevin yesterday. He really ______________. He used to be in top shape.
  5. My brother is ___________, so he stays at home most days of the week and helps with household chores. (clue: lost his job)
  6. Hana said she needs to go to the ___________. I’ll tell her you called.
  7. Gary is so lucky to get that _________ car! He bought it at a reduced price but it still looks new.
  8. My uncle had a heart attack last week. Unfortunately, he ____________.
  9. These days, fashion industries also create designs and clothe lines for _________ women, and not just for the slim ones.
  10. There’s a charity drive in our school’s gymnasium this Saturday. We encourage students to bring their ___________ items, then we’ll donate them to the orphanage.

 

OTHER EUPHEMISMS:

Correctional facility means jail

Break wind : pass gas or fart

Adult beverages : beer or liquor

Turn a trick : engage in prostitution

Go all the way / Sleep together : have sex

Pregnancy termination : abortion

Letting someone go : firing someone

On the streets : homeless

Adult entertainment : pornography

Portly : heavy or overweight

Economical with the truth : liar

Vertically-challenged : a short person

Chronologically-challenged : late

Departed : died

Collateral damage : accidental deaths

Ethnic cleansing : genocide

So, if you watch English TV shows or Hollywood movies, hopefully this time you’d understand what these soft expressions mean.


Author
I have a passion for the English language because it is such a powerful tool for creativity and personal development. I've been writing articles since I was in High School. I represented my school in English writing competitions in the city, regional, and national levels. When I was in college, I wrote a short story which was published in the University Literary Portfolio. In 2006, I worked as a call center agent in Cebu City. In 2007 up to 2008, I worked as an English accent trainer in a startup call center company. I have also been offering ESL lessons as a freelance tutor since February 2016.