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Learn British English: English euphemisms visual » Learn British … says a euphemism is “the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.”  Euphemisms are plentiful, some old and some of a more modern twists. Let us look at a few. 

Accouchement is a one-hundred year old term for childbirth. In the Regency Period in which many of my novels are set, I use the words “lying in” or “enceinte.” A physician might use the word “parturition.” Accouchement comes from the French word “accouter,” meaning “to put to bed.” In James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), he says, “Meanwhile the skill and patience of the physician had brought about a happy accouchement.” 

Language Arts comes to us by combining language skills and communication arts. In a favorite play, Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase (1964), we find “Language Arts Dept. is the English office.” My undergraduate degree was in Language Arts Comprehensive 7-12, which permitted me to teach English, speech, journalism, and theatre in the American public school systems.

Ablutions, another word I often use in my novels, means to wash (sometimes ceremoniously as in purification, rather than for hygienic purposes). The word dates to the mid 1700s. 

Authentic Reproduction is a good example of double-talk. A reproduction is not authentic. 

Make love is a euphemism turned into a euphemism. It was originally the flowery language used by a gentleman to woo or to court his lady love. The Oxford English Dictionary gives us a reference to John Lyly and “a phrase now there is which belongeth to your Shoppe boorde, that is to make loud” (Euphues and His England, 1580). The OED did not use “make love” as a euphemism for sex until the 1976 supplement and then the earliest example given was from 1950.

Cripes is an euphemism for “Christ.” We also have Christopher Columbus, criminey, Jiminy Cricket, cricky. cracky, etc. 

Free Presentations in PowerPoint format for Euphemisms PK-12

Free Presentations in PowerPoint format for Euphemisms PK-12

Pluck is another word for courage. In A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1796), Francis Grose indicates “pluck” and “guts” can be used interchangeably. “Pluck” is another word for “viscera.” From Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (1897) we find this quote, “I saw…five unpleasantly looking objects stuck on sticks. They were the livers and lungs, and in fact the plucks of witch-doctors.” 

Monthlies is an older term for a woman’s menstrual cycle or period. I use it in my Regency based novels. If we return to James Joyce’s Ulysses, we discover, “That squinty one is delicate. Near her monthlies, I expect, makes them ticklish.” 

Criminal Conversation is the term for adultery in British common law and in the laws of some states in the U. S. I live in North Carolina, which still has this term upon the law books. John Edwards’ (senator and presidential candidate) late wife brought suit against Rielle Hunter for criminal conversation in the North Carolina courts. The “conversation” is an euphemisms for non-spoken intercourse. A British case of the mid 1800s involved Thomas Brudenell seventh Earl of Cardigan’s affair with Lady Frances, wife of Lord William Paget. Paget sued for 15,000 pounds in damages. 

Silly means feebleminded. It is a 16th Century word. The OED gives us this example, “The King’s uncle, being rather weak in intellect, was called Silly Billy” (Goldwin Smith, Lectures and Essays, 1881). 

Smallclothes can mean small articles of clothing (as in underclothing or handkerchiefs). In the 18th Century the word meant close-fitting breeches.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in British history, euphemisms, Great Britain, Living in the Regency, Regency era and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Euphemisms

  1. Beatrice says:

    When I went to college back in the 60s, I learned several euphemisms for a period. I had no clue when people said, “I fell off the roof” or “my friend came to call”, not mention several more graphic ones.

  2. My ob/gyn is English and, and doctors in this field often do, he asks after all things pelvic. I’ve always appreciated the way he refers to urination: “have you any trouble passing water?”

    • I like that one also, Renée. I am a military brat. I have often heard people say that a soldier will receive an “other than honorable discharge.” LOL!

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