Some subjects are considered personal, sensitive or taboo in English. For this reason, people avoid mentioning them by name and instead use a “euphemism” or humorous expression to refer to them. Here are some common euphemisms in English.
To refer to death
We don’t always speak directly about death, but instead use one of the following expressions:
pass away: “Her uncle passed away last year.” (also pass as in “He passed last year.”)
fight a long battle with: “He fought a long battle with cancer.”
Here are some less serious expressions to refer to death:
meet your maker: “He’s gone to meet his maker.”
six feet under: “I won’t worry about money when I’m six feet under.”
pushing up daisies: “Last I heard about him, he’s pushing up daisies.” (A daisy is a small, white flower that grows easily in grass.)
in your / his / my box: “When I’m in my box you can argue all you like about the inheritance.”
snuff it: “I’ve heard that poor old Ernie has snuffed it.”
popped his clogs: “Harold popped his clogs last year.”
kick the bucket: “So Joe has finally kicked the bucket.”
Pets are often an important part of the family, and English-speaking people try to be sensitive around the issue of animal illness. If a pet is suffering, many people consider that the kindest thing to do is to “put it out of its misery” – i.e. animal euthanasia.
put down: “We had to put our cat down as she was very ill.”
put an end to its suffering: “We put an end to her suffering.”
To refer to the bathroom
Bodily functions are “taboo” in polite company.
restroom: “Can I use the restroom?”
Where can I wash my hands?
public conveniences: “Are there any public conveniences nearby?”
ladies / gents: “The ladies and gents are down the corridor on your right.”
Can I use your bathroom?
There are also some humorous expressions to refer to the bathroom:
the bog: “He’s in the bog.”
the smallest room of the house: “I’d like to pay a visit to the smallest room of the house.”
powder my nose: “Where can I powder my nose?”
see a man about a dog: “He’s gone to see a man about a dog.”
between jobs: “Steve is between jobs at the moment.”
a resting actor: “Harry’s a resting actor.” (Only use for unemployed actors.)
in the family way: “She was in the family way, so they got married.”
have a bun in the oven: “Have you heard that Katy has a bun in the oven?”
tired and emotional: “The newspaper said the president was tired and emotional.”
have a bit too much to drink: “He had a bit too much to drink last night.”
to be a bit worse for wear: “He was a bit worse for wear by the time he came home.”
to have over-indulged: “I think he over-indulged in the free beer at the party.”
economical with the truth: “The boss is known for being economical with the truth.”
full and frank discussion: “The directors had a full and frank discussion in the meeting.”
have words with someone: “Those two have had words.”
be disadvantaged: “The government is introducing new schemes to help the disadvantaged.”
financially embarrassed: “I’m afraid I can’t come to the restaurant with you. I’m financially embarrassed at the moment.”
Next page: Make sure you check out my guide to British slang!
50 British English Slang Expressions