English Euphemisms That Are Difficult To Understand The First Time

Ellison Claptonreviewed byNataliia Afonina / more about Editorial Process11 min
Created: Dec 8, 2022Last updated: Dec 27, 2023
English Euphemisms That Are Difficult To Understand The First Time

English would never leave learners bored since even native speakers can, at times, hear some phrases they didn’t know before. You’ll hardly find any other language comparable to English euphemisms in terms of the unusual words replacing rude expressions. One of the primary reasons why these expressions are widely common among the British is connected with their mentality. 

To avoid offending their interlocutor, they often choose unusual phrases, the meaning of which is often confusing. Euphemism is a phrase that can replace an insulting expression that could cause negative emotions from the surrounding people. Their history has been known for many centuries. Still, they became especially relevant in modern culture after the Vietnam War when many soldiers were psychically unstable, and no one would like to hurt them, carefully choosing words during communication. So, what are the most popular English euphemisms foreigners usually misunderstand?

Euphemisms About Death

It is precisely a topic that people prefer not to discuss since it is hardly pleasant for anyone. Losing a loved one is tough for any person, but even here, the native speakers could apply their traditional humor and develop suitable phrases. Looking at them for the first time, you will never guess they are about death!

To Bite the Dust

This phrase is so weird that it’s almost impossible to figure out its meaning for the first time. Don’t be nervous since a person doesn’t actually eat the dust. The euphemism is connected with one of the delicate topics that the English do not take long to discuss, death. This theme has always been full of superstitions and fears, so many people prefer to come up with playful expressions to brighten up the negative connotation. Overall, “to bite the dust” has several meanings:

  • the classic version implies someone’s death;
  • the more modern option describes a person’s failure.

It’s worth noting that the classic meaning is still more common among English speakers. However, remember not to use it when you would like to express your condolences to the relatives of the deceased, as this phrase is considered slang. Search for other options on the English euphemisms list if you are looking for ways to be compassionate to those suffering from their loss.

Bought the Farm

No, nobody bought a house in the countryside since this euphemism concerns one of the forbidden topics. People prefer not to speak about death out loud, and even when such a sad event occurs, native speakers approach it with a touch of humor. So "bought a farm" means that the person has left this world. However, as with the euphemism "bite the dust," it's best not to use this phrase at formal events.

Leave the Land of Leaving

At first glance, it might seem that this expression is about a person moving to another house and leaving their previous home. However, the phrase is a bit more complicated: people use it to describe that someone passed away. You might have noticed that English speakers prefer not to say “dead” out loud, considering that something even better is waiting for people after their life on Earth.

List of Euphemisms About Unemployment

In society, it is not customary to discuss the financial condition of others or to find out why a person lost their job. If you come to an English-speaking country and say you are still unemployed, no one will blame you for this. The locals would rather say that you are searching for yourself or inspiration. Take a look at some widely used expressions you might have never heard before.

To Be Between Jobs

If you lose your job, no one will openly call you “unemployed” since it's impolite. Native speakers are more prone to use the expression "to be between jobs." It sounds great, as such a phrase will not offend a person but, at the same time, instill the belief that he will definitely cope with the search for a new workplace. We all should learn tolerance and the ability to communicate delicately with our interlocutors!


Nobody would like to emphasize their financial condition, and you should better avoid such phrases as “poor”, “unemployed,” etc. “Down-and-out” is usually used to describe people in need who have nowhere to live and no livelihood. As a rule, it is not customary to discuss the well-being of another person aloud. But if you still have to, take advantage of this euphemism not to offend the individual, not to put a person in an uncomfortable position, and not to be considered impolite.

Pursuing Other Opportunities

This is one of those euphemisms used when a person has lost their job and is experiencing temporary financial difficulties. As you may have noticed, English speakers are extremely sensitive to this topic and will never offend the temporarily unemployed. Even if a person is just lazy and has never worked, they will say he is "pursuing other opportunities."


Addictions Are A Separate Topic in the ​​Euphemistic Word List

The British or Americans would not tell an alcoholic that he is addicted to whiskey or call those who regularly use drugs a junkie. They have numerous phrases that hint that a person has problems, but they will never say it directly. It is important to respect the feelings of any person, no matter what kind of trouble they have. Catch the most popular euphemism word list concerning the topic of drug and alcohol addiction.

China White

As we already know, English speakers prefer bright euphemisms designed to discuss numerous unacceptable topics delicately. “China white” is a common name for cocaine, which is generally viewed negatively. Separate code words were invented for such substances so that people won’t show their weaknesses to the public. Incidentally, even the dependence on alcohol and drugs the English speakers would not call addiction. They are more likely to specify that the person has a small "weakness."

At Peace with Floor

As we already wrote, it is not customary to focus on bad habits and addictions. The same applies to alcohol abuse. But do not say that the person just got drunk since we have a more suitable phrase, “at peace with floor.” After these words, the alcohol lover will think about spending less time in bars.

Caught the Irish Flu

This expression is not about those suffering from a cold after an exciting trip around Ireland. Again, this euphemism describes those dependent on alcohol. It could be easy to predict the phrase's meaning if you think that the Irish even add whiskey to their coffee. However, it doesn’t look offensive if you tell somebody they have caught the Irish flu, but the person will probably think about their problematic issues.

Other Euphemisms in English on Different Topics

We have divided the above-mentioned phrases into different topics so that you can know how to behave and what to say in the most delicate situations. However, these are far from all the unusual expressions native speakers use. Catch the euphemism lists and try to guess what they mean before checking our answers. 

The Old Boy

Many euphemisms are associated with religion because it is usually not customary to talk about it out loud. “The Old Boy” often replaces the devil since no one would like to say it. Other synonyms you might have seen are “black gentleman” and “black prince,” which are used more frequently.

To Rub Up the Wrong Way

This expression is usually utilized to emphasize that a person irritates you, and can be found on numerous euphemism lists. Even when a person is very annoying, English speakers are unlikely to tell them about it directly. In fact, the meaning of this euphemism is easy to guess if you are an experienced cat or dog person. Link it to the phrase "stroking an animal the wrong way": everyone knows that this is a very annoying process for our pets. The same works with people. If you don't like someone's behavior, tell them they rub you the wrong way.

To Have Bun in the Oven

What was the first thing you thought of when you saw this phrase? Surely about sweet pastries from a nearby coffee shop or magical Parisian croissants with fragrant coffee. But, unfortunately, this English language is not so simple, and you will never guess what it is about!

Pregnancy is a joy and happiness for any woman, but not everyone wants to attract attention to their condition. In such an instance, the native speakers say, “to have bun in the oven.” Look how perfectly the words are combined: we bet you couldn’t even predict the meaning of the expression. The synonyms you can use without doubt include “to be expecting a baby” and “in a family way.”

Fallen off the Back of a Lorry

We are convinced this is the first time you have heard this expression. And you definitely have a question about what do euphemisms mean. It does not imply that something fell out of the car, and you urgently need to run after it to return the loss to the owner. This phrase means stolen goods, usually purchased in poor areas. Native speakers are so interesting since they have a suitable euphemism even for such unusual instances.

Under the Weather

An ill person often doesn’t want to attract attention to their condition. In such cases, polite people will say they are under the weather. It is worth noting that this phrase can be used in any instance, regardless of what disease struck a person. 

You Are Becoming a Little Thin on Top

It's hard enough to guess what that means, isn't it? Millions of people face the problem of baldness, and of course, you should not focus on this. The funny phrase “You are becoming a little thin on top” will not offend the individual and won’t seem rude. 

Chronologically Challenged

We all have friends who are always late, but not everyone is ready to speak out about such a disadvantage. If you are tired of your acquaintances being constantly late, tell them they are chronologically challenged, and they will only be left wondering what you meant. Such an affectionate hint at their shortcoming will help them get rid of this bad habit and come in time!

Special Operations

As well as religion and death, politics also has a lot of secrets. And, of course, people couldn’t avoid inventing euphemisms on this topic. For instance, special operations usually imply tax fraud, about which hardly anyone dares to speak directly. This may also apply to other illegal activities carried out by the government or ordinary people.

Suffering a Wardrobe Malfunction

The first thought that will appear when you see this phrase is that the person does not have enough clothes to describe a bad financial situation. However, this interpretation is wrong. “Suffering a wardrobe malfunction” represents girls who dress too revealingly and look vulgar. For example, if a lady is wearing a skirt that is too short and shows off those body parts that are not customary to reveal, you will hardly tell her about it. But it is possible to replace your open dissatisfaction with a suitable euphemism.

To Drain the Lizard

We think it’s one of the most exciting and unobvious on the euphemistic words list. As a rule, it is not considered polite to talk directly about your intention to go to the toilet. In such an instance, women are more likely to "powder their nose," and men will "fix their tie." However, if you are looking for a more interesting and unusual way to say that you need to leave, use the expression “drain the lizard.” Your interlocutor will understand you are going to visit the water closet. 

Being Light-Fingered

Even if you know for sure that a person is a pickpocket, you should not call them the offensive word "thief." It’s more acceptable to say that such people are “light-fingered,” meaning that a person regularly commits theft, and stealing something from you will not be difficult for them.

Pre-Loved Car

It’s well-known that English speakers will never tell anyone they are old. They would rather replace it with “aging” or “golden age.” Moreover, they will not describe a car in such a way! Instead of “used” or “old” auto, English speakers would say it’s pre-loved. That sounds so nice and caring that you will definitely want to purchase it.

Final Insight

We hope that you were excited by our selection! Undeniably, everyone has learned something new and will be able to apply the appropriate euphemisms if necessary. Moreover, we recommend keeping track of all trends and slang expressions to communicate like a native speaker. Promova, the online English school, will become your reliable assistant as our tutors constantly refresh their knowledge and are always ready to share it with our beloved students. 

English is rich in euphemisms, and you can find one for almost any occasion. Many would say that it cannot be considered a literary language, and it is quite possible to do without them. However, if you’ve already sorted out what euphemisms are, search for the new statements, and you will make your vocabulary richer and more emotional. Experts recommend communicating with native speakers and regularly looking for new phrases. You will enjoy the process and have lots of fun when guessing what these statements mean!


What do euphemisms mean?

Euphemism is an expression that replaces a rude or inappropriate statement on a topic that is usually not customary to raise. The most common subjects for such phrases include death, religion, politics, childbirth, and unemployment. However, English speakers can choose a suitable expression for any occasion.

Why should we use euphemisms?

The most important mission of these phrases is to hide the negative message so as not to offend the person. Someone may be traumatized by the topic of death, while others are embarrassed by their addiction. Moreover, euphemisms significantly increase your vocabulary, helping you speak like a native resident.

How to recognize an English euphemism?

Numerous phrases are similar to those in other languages, or their meaning can be guessed from the context. For instance, you won’t probably have questions about the expression “passed away” instead of “died” since the phrase is widespread. Overall, the most efficient way is to find a suitable tutor that will help you understand euphemisms and will constantly provide you with all the updates the English speakers come up with.

Where to search for new English euphemisms?

Practice is the key, so the best way to learn these trendy expressions is by communicating with native speakers. However, you can also use trustworthy resources, including dictionaries and online libraries. One of the popular options is the Cambridge University website, which regularly updates content, providing learners with the most relevant information. 


Aiden LeeOct 11th, 2023
I had no idea there were so many euphemisms in english, thanks for shedding light on this topic!
PromovaJul 11th, 2023
Great question! Learning English euphemisms can enhance language fluency and cultural understanding in several ways. Firstly, it allows learners to grasp the subtleties and nuances of the language, as euphemisms often convey meaning indirectly. This fosters a deeper understanding of English and its cultural context. Additionally, studying euphemisms helps learners navigate sensitive or delicate topics with tact and diplomacy, which is crucial in both personal and professional interactions. Overall, mastering English euphemisms expands language proficiency while offering valuable insights into cultural norms, communication styles, and societal taboos.
LiamJul 11th, 2023
how can learning English euphemisms enhance language fluency and cultural understanding?