Euphemisms help us to express something in a more sensitive manner. For example, “She’s away with the fairies” is a kinder way of saying “She is completely mad.” Writers and speakers use euphemisms to soften difficult or embarrassing topics like death, ugliness, madness, and cruelty. They make the bad seem good, the negative seem positive and the unpleasant seem more pleasant – which is why they are sometimes called “doublespeak”.

However euphemisms can also be used deliberately to hide things. George Orwell showed how politicians use euphemisms in his novel Animal Farm. For example, instead of telling the other animals that they would be getting less food, the pigs – who are the big bosses – use the word “readjustment”: “For the time being,” [the pig] explains, “it had been found necessary to make a readjustment of rations.” Bosses might say that someone is being ‘let go’, rather than that they are being fired, or retrenched. ‘Let go’ sounds like the person is being freed, whereas in reality they are losing their job which is something very stressful and difficult!