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Deceitful Language and Euphemisms


This handout will cover some of the major issues with appropriate language use: levels of language formality, deceitful language and euphemisms, slang and idiomatic expressions; using group-specific jargon; and biased/stereotypical language.

Contributors:OWL Content Development Staff
Last Edited: 2018-02-14 03:11:21

Deceitful Language and Euphemisms

You should avoid using any language whose purpose is deceitful. Euphemisms are terms that attempt to cover up that which is wrong, unethical, taboo, or harsh.

Here are some examples from the military:

Complex or Confusing Language

Language can also be deceitful if it is overly complex or confusing. Confusing language is deliberately created complex and is used to downplay the truth or to evade responsibility. Here is an example:

The acquisition of pollution permits by individuals and corporations that produce toxins has now been allowed by the recently amended Clean Air Act of 1990. Institution of permits simplifies and clarifies obligations for business and industry, making environmental protections more accessible for these constituents. The government and the Environmental Protection Agency will be greatly assisted in their endeavors by monitoring the release of all substances and having the substances listed on one individual permit.

Although this paragraph makes it seem like this facet of the Clean Air Act is helping the environment, the EPA, and the federal government, in reality all it is doing is explaining the new permit system that allows permit holders to release pollutants into the environment.

Group Terminology

Depending on your purpose, however, some terms that may be considered euphemisms may be appropriate or even sanctioned by groups they affect. For example, it is more correct to say "persons with disabilities" or "differently-abled persons" than to call someone "handicapped," "crippled," or even "disabled." In these cases, it is important to use what is considered correct by the group in question.

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