Our paper is devoted to the study of phraseological euphemisms in
The term "euphemism” (from Greek "eu” – "well”, "phemi” – "I am
speaking”) has been used to denote a definite stylistic device for many
centuries. As a
linguistic phenomenon it has been analyzed since the XIXth century but
only in the last
decades the problem of euphemisms acquired its widespread popularity.
Linguists analyze different types of euphemisms as parts of lexical
system of different
languages. The problem of phraseological euphemisms hasn’t been in the
scientists’ attention yet. On the whole, the process of eupheminisation
is considered to
be a complex and many-sided linguistic phenomenon characterized by three
interconnected aspects: social, phycological and linguistic proper. The
most important is
the linguistic one which is connected with meliorative language
evaluation of something
negative existing in the real world. Linguists are united in their
opinion that euphemisms
are extralinguistic in their nature. Still there is a great divergency
concerning social and psychological causes of euphemisms, the most
important criteria of
eupheminisation, stylistic reference and the usage of euphemisms in real
All these testifies to the actuality of the problem analyzed.
The novelty of the paper is dictated by the fact that phraseological
haven’t been the object of scientific investigation so far. In a limited
number of works
they were analyzed together with other phraseological units belonging to
phraseo-semantic fields (e.g. "death”). Still they present some interest
denominations of rather typical and even common phenomena of our
everyday life. The fact
that they have transferred meaning also adds importance to our
Phraseological euphemisms were picked out from A.Koonin’s
Phraseological Dictionary”  according to the label "эвф.”, some other
phraseological dictionaries and books on phraseology. The author of the
dictionary includes this label into the system of stylistic labels
marking at the same
time that the system of stylistic labels is, to some extent,
conventional. At the same
time not all euphemisms are marked in the dictionary with this label.
Some of them have
other labels, e.g. "in a (the) family way” "разг.” (colloquial), "be out
(take, leave) of one’s senses” "разг.” (colloquial), "shoot (sling,
the bull” "амер. жарг.”(Amer. jargon), "be off one’s nut”
"жарг.” (jargon), etc. According to the point of view of modern
express notions which are considered inappropriate or rude. The image on
which they are
based is not rough or unpleasant, so they also belong to the group of
The examples of illustrative quotations are taken either from the
dictionary or from the book "Exercises in Modern English Lexicology” by
M.Kuznets, A.Kumacheva and G.Meltser .
First of all, phraseological euphemisms will be studied from the
point of view of the
notions they express. Secondly, one synonymic group of phraseological
euphemisms will be
investigated from the point of view of different types of synonyms.
From the point of view of their semantics phraseological euphemisms
(PE) may be
subdivided into several groups, the most important of them are:
1. Euphemisms naming death and everything connected with it, e.g. "to
last (one’s last breath, gasp)”, "to depart this life”, "to pay one’s
nature”, "to go to one’s last home”, "to go the way of all flesh”, "to
the bucket”, "to hop the twig”, "to join the majority”, "to be no more”,
"God’s acre”, etc.:
The next day, his parents were flown to New Mexico by special Army
plane, and they
stayed at their son’s bedside, until he breathed his last.
(R.Lapp. "Atoms and People”).
A strapping lad like Cliffy Benton to be smashed up and put out of
his life, and all
the parsons can do about it is stuff religion down y’r throat, and try
to make y’
believe Cliffy’s gone to glory: ‘God knows best.”
(K.Prichard. "Golden Miles”).
Patrick Henry has already gone to his long home; Samuel
Adams was soon to
(Ch.Beard and M Beard. ‘The Rise of American Civilisation”).
He did not talk to them; they had already been told exactly what each
of them was to
do, and who was to do what in case the first-chice man kicked the
bucket or was
(S.Heym. "The Crusaders”).
He pardoned us off-hand, and allowed us something to live on till he went
the way of
(Ch.Dickens. "Sketches by Boz’, "Mr. Watkins Tottle”).
Religious and moral factors are the driving forces of this group of
euphemisms. Fear before death and, sometimes, the desire not to hurt a
person, to show
one’s tact and courtesy can be considered to be the emotional basis of
such PE. This
group of PE is rather numerous.
2. Euphemisms naming social evils, crimes, human vices and their
"three sheets in (to) the wind”, "in one’s cups”, "send somebody to
"send somebody to kingdom-come”, "the Duke of Exeter’s daughter”, shoot
throw) the bull”, "kiss the cup”, "have (take) a drop”, "have one too
"have had a few”, etc.:
They threatened to make me hug the Duke of Exeter’s daughter.
(W.Scott. "The Fortunes of Nigel”).
…he is a good unconscious spy on Brass, and tells, in his
that he sees and hears.
(Ch.Dickens. "The Old Curiosity Shop”).
‘Did you have a chance to say a few words to the Governor tonight,
Luke?’ he asked
anxiously. "Sure, I was over there shooting the breeze
with him just a few
(E.O’Connor. "The Last Hurrah”).
Moral principles serve as a social determinant of phraseological
euphemisms of this
rather large group. Social evils and human vises have always been a rich
creating such PEs.
3. Euphemisms naming poverty, hard financial situation, e.g. "be in
"live from hand to mouth”, "not to have a shirt to one’s back”, "not
have> a penny to bless oneself with”; "without a penny to one’s
body and soul together”, make <both, two> ends meet”:
Brown came to see me yesterday, and from what he told me, the poor
chap doesn’t seem to
have a shirt to his back. He has been out of employment for over a
One of his guests, a writer of poetical drama, was a man who three
months after he had
earned a thousand pound, never had a penny with which to bless
(J.K.Jerome. "Paul Kelver”).
Poverty has always been a very undesirable and unpleasant condition,
especially in the
English society. No wonder that poor people tried to conceal their poor
situation using or inventing indirect names for it.
4. Euphemisms naming mental deformities (disability), e.g. "be out
(take, leave) of
one’s senses”, "be off one’s nut”, "go nuts”, "soft (touched, weak) in
head”, "a strange bird”, a weird (strange) customer”, a weird (strange)
Woman, you’ve gone too far! You’re out of your senses!
(D.Carter .”Fatherless Sons”)..
"He said he didn’t want to see you…’ Babbit reared over him. The
hastily changed to a coaxing. ‘You can come back and try to-morrow.
Probably the poor
guy is off his nut’.
She did one good thing – the dumb girl in that Russian play. But she
for nuts; you’re following the sense of her words all the time.
(J.Galsworthy. The Silver Spoon”).
He looked out the pub window at the sky-high mountain peaks that seem
to be nudging
Vancouver into the sea. ‘Sometimes I think I’ll go nuts, staring
(D.Carter. "Fatherless Sons”).
Mental and physical handicaps cause the sense of pity, sometimes
disgust. No wonder
that there appeared a lot of phraseological euphemisms to name them.
5. Euphemisms naming some acts or conditions from the sphere of
physiology, e.g. "pay
a call”, "a call of nature”, " in the straw”, "in a (the) family way”,
nature’s garb”, "not a stitch on”, "in a state of nature”, "in one’s
The tall dark girl came to see Doctor Reefy because she was in
the family way
and had become frightened.
(Sh.Anderson. "Winesburg, Ohio”).
Angelina. Your friend, the bald man, the one who calls for you, where
Philip. He is at the moment responding to a call of nature.
(I.Shaw. "The Gentle People”).
The little bay was so sheltered that we could bathe without a stitch
It is interesting to note that the polysemantic phraseological unit
"not (without) a
stitch to one’s back” is a phraseological euphemism in both meanings: 1.
naked; 2. very poor. Physiological function, the condition of pregnancy
nakedness are considered to be indecent or not worth speaking about in
according to moral principles existing in such a society.
6. Euphemisms referring to the sexual sphere, e.g. "a lady of easy
light (easy) woman”, "a real battleaxe”, "a house of ill fame”, "make
(in the second meaning):
In my bedroom we would pass the hours making love or talking
and only too often
(Gr.Green. "The Comedians”).
It is entirely populated by crooks, stock-exchange jugglers, corrupt
policemen, and …
ladies of easy virtue.
(J.Lindsay. "All on the Never-Never”).
Phraseological euphemisms belonging to one and the same
phraseo-semantic group may
further be subdivided into synonymic groups as there are different
grammatical classes in
one and the same group – verbal, substantive, adjectival, etc.
belong to the same grammatical class and are phraseological units which
are the same in
the plane of content but different in the plane of expression.
The majority of linguists distinguish three types of phraseological
ideographic, stylistic and stylistic-ideographic. Ideographic synonyms
differ in shades of
meaning or have different notional components of meaning. Their
archesemes coincide but
they have one or more minor differential semes in the denotational
component of meaning.
Stylistic synonyms have the same notional components of meaning but
differ in their
stylistic reference. Stylistic-ideographic synonyms have some different
connotational components of meaning.
There are also synonyms that coincide both in denotational and
of phraseological meaning. Such synonyms are called equivalent (or
We have analyzed the synonymic group of phraseological euphemisms
with the meaning
"to die”. This synonymic group is rather numerous as the concept of
death finds its
reflection in all languages and the attitude towards this "event” is
people are mortal” is a well-known expression, so speakers of different
representatives of different nations and nationalities try to conceal
emotions and painful news. Phraseological units are based on different
majority of such images may be considered elevated, as in such units as "
go to a better
world”, "go to glory”, "go to heaven”, "go to kingdom-come”, "go to
one’s last (long) home”, etc. Others are based on some "common” images,
take the ferry”, "be (go) up the flume” (in the second meaning), "to be
more”. Only a very limited number of phraseological euphemisms of this
"use” the images which can cause ironical or jocular attitude, e.g.
bucket”, "to hop the twig”.
All phraseological units belonging to this group of phraseological
synonyms denote one
and the same action, that’s why their denotational components coincide.
be observed either in emotional evaluation or stylistic reference of
First of all we distinguish equivalent (equipollent) phraseological
euphemisms which coincide in both components of their phraseological
and connotational). Coincidence in their connotational components means
their evaluation, emotiveness, expressivity and stylistic reference.
Death is presented in
them as something positive, going to the better world, to God. Such
etymologically connected with belief in God, with the Bible or were
borrowed from Latin,
e.g. "go to one’s last (long) home” was used in the Bible, Ecclesiastes
[2:318]. The origin of the phraseological euphemism "join the
dates to the Latin expression "abiit ad plures” [2:476].
Let’s present equivalent phraseological synonymic euphemisms: "join
ancestors”, "be gathered to one’s fathers”, "go beyond the veil”, "go
way of nature”, "go to a better world”, "go to glory”, "go to
"go to one’s last (long) home”, "join the <great> majority”.
It is interesting to note that there are no ideographic
phraseological synonyms in this
group of PEs. Such cases are very rare, in our group of synonyms it is
caused by the fact
that all phraseological synonyms have the same meaning "to die” without
additional shades of denotational meaning as it is observed in other
The group of stylistic synonyms constitute the above mentioned PEs
(belonging to the
group of equivalent synonyms and being stylistically neutral), on the
one hand, and such
synonyms as "go west” (colloquial), or "go the way of all flesh”
(bookish), on the
other hand. They denote the same notion, coincide in their denotational
based on different images and belong to different stylistic layers.
The last group of phraseological synonyms – stylistic-ideographic, in
our case is
presented by phraseological euphemisms belonging to different stylistic
differentiating in emotional colouring as a subcomponent of connotation.
It means that
some phraseological units such as "kick the bucket”, "be (go) up the
the second meaning), "throw up the sponge” are characterized by a
jocular or ironical
emotiveness in comparison with other units of this synonymic group. Thus
they differ in
the emotive connotational subcomponent. Besides such units as "kick the
(jargon), "be (go) up the flume” (American colloquial), "go west”
"go hence”, "go beyond the veil”, etc. differs in their stylistic
such phraseological euphemisms belong to the group of
A very good way to see the difference between the three groups of
synonyms is to see the behaviour of PEs belonging to different groups in
‘You think I’m going to join the majority.’ ‘…Well, put it
that way if
(J.Galsworthy. "Caravan”, "A Stoic”).
About one year after his wife’s death Mr.Pontifex also was gathered
(S.Butler. "The Way of All Flesh”).
There is a very interesting illustration of several PEs belonging to
this group used in
one and the same context:
‘You see, one of the boys has gone up the flume –‘ ‘Gone where?’
‘Up the flume – throwed up the sponge, you understand.’ ‘Thrown
the sponge?’ ‘Yes, kicked the bucket’ – ‘Ah! Has departed to
mysterious country from whose bourne no traveler returns.’
reckon not. Why, pard, he’s dead.’
(M.Twain. "The Innocents at Home”).
The analysis of phraseological synonymic euphemisms with the meaning
"to die” has
shown that the synonymic group consists of different groups of synonyms:
stylistic and stylistic-ideographic. They describe the same event with
the help of
different images on which the PEs are based. A rather large number of
PEs of this group
shows us the importance of phraseological euphemisms used to satisfy the
need to soften
such painful news as somebody’s death.