When death or impending death is referred to only in code words, which becomes chilling when the audience realizes what they are referring to. Usually used by sinister conspiracies, powerful gangsters, Dystopian
bureaucrats (see also Double Speak
), Paths Of Inspiration
or Scary Dogmatic Aliens
. Occasionally also invoked by "good guy" operations, too (spy agencies, etc.) but less frequently.
In some cases, the words 'destroyed' or 'erased' may be used, not as a euphemism, but rather because the word 'killed' is insufficient. Usually refers to those who have suffered a Fate Worse Than Death
, or an individual who has been killed and wiped from all records
. Or they just don't acknowledge them as people to begin with.
This is similar to Never Say "Die"
, but isn't associated with censorship; violent deaths will be shown, or someone will explain the real meaning of the euphemism (that is, if it's necessary to do so, since in most cases the speaker will use a tone of voice that makes it clear). It's also the supertrope of Trouble Entendre
and Released to Elsewhere
The opposite of this would be No Longer with Us
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime and Manga
- For such a Magnificent Bastard, you'd think Fushigi Yuugi's Nakago would say "You will die" to his last enemy. But no, he tells Miaka, "Neither of you will exist in either world." (Never you mind who the other person referred to is.)
- "Demoned Away" (onikakushi, with oni replacing the kami in kamikakushi; "spirited away") is a euphemism for killed, or sent away, in Satoshi's case, in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.
- You sure won't want to "transfer out".
- There are other variations that the characters used too, usually not in the anime though.
- Kasumi, Ange's evil aunt and eventual guardian in Umineko no Naku Koro ni says that she and her body guards will have tea with Ange. Later on, we find out that she really means that she will beat her to death.
- We eventually find out that when characters in the early arcs talked about "opening the door to the Golden Land", they meant blowing up Rokkenjima with the 900 tons of explosives stashed under it.
- Saint Young Men has "Going home". Played for laughs, considering that the main characters are Buddha and Jesus.
- In Tekken: The Motion Picture, Kazuya tells Nina to remind Heihachi to "clean his (Heihachi's own) neck".
- Black Butler: In the Anime, the main villain desires to "purify" humans of their sins (i.e., kill or brainwash them into an Empty Shell), and often repeats the following Madness Mantra:
- In Death Note Kira frequently uses euphemisms such as "tonight's judgments," "punishments," or "cleansing the world" for mass killings of criminals.
- Invoked in Baccano!: When the Russo family boss is fed up with a small time business double dealing him one too many times, he suggests his nephew, the Axe Crazy hitman Ladd, to go have a "chat" with them. Even Ladd is gleefully aware that if he's sent anywhere, it's only to kill people, but his uncle reiterates that all he's suggesting Ladd to do is go over and "talk" to them.
- Used near the end of Satou Kashi no Dangan wa Uchinukenai by by Muzuko's father to describe her death, after killing her. "She turned into sea foam".
- In the Ninja Burger card game, a ninja who has lost all his Honor "apologizes to his ancestors — in person".
- The Phyrexians do not horribly mutilate people beyond all recognition, give them cybernetic enhancements, and reshape their bodies. They compleat them. And no, that's not a typo.
- Lampshaded during one of the routines on Bill Cosby's I Started Out as a Child comedy album. When describing the high mortality rate of medics during the Korean War, Cosby mentions a medic getting "zonked" and then, a few seconds later, interrupts himself to explain: "'Zonked' means 'dead'."
- Monty Python's Flying Circus's "Dead Parrot Sketch" is chiefly a barrage of these from the displeased customer to the pet shop owner who sold him a dead parrot.
- Dirty Cop movies and TV shows will inevitably reference the arrestee "resisting arrest" as a euphemism for having beat them (or requesting that they be beat) senseless. Unfortunately also very much Truth in Television.
- Apocalypse Now has one in the opening, the real life euphemism: Terminate with extreme prejudice.
- Tim Burton's Batman: The Joker is quite fond of these (fitting, given his history as a mobster):
- Replicants in Blade Runner are "retired," which really means "hunted down and executed."
- Used repeatedly in Brazil. "Information retrieval" is jargon for "interrogation by electric torture" (which the interrogated party is charged for, no less). When somebody dies, each bureau uses a different euphemism, such as "deleted," "inoperative," "excised," or "completed."
- Played for Laughs in Caddyshack II, with a Shell-Shocked Veteran-turned-Professional Killer (played by Dan Aykroyd) who claims that his specialty in the service was "demolitions... of an interpersonal nature."
- In Captain America: The First Avenger, Johann Schmidt decided, after some Nazi officers referred to him as "Red Skull" (a name he despises) when chewing him out, to "show them his weapons."
- In ''Casablanca, sarcastically lampshaded by Captain Renault:
Laszlo: May I see him?
Strasser: You would find the conversation a trifle one-sided. Signor Ugarte is dead.
Renault: I'm making out the report now. We haven't quite decided whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.
- In Clonus, when a clone is taken to be killed for his organs, the other clones are told he's "gone to America."
- Conspiracy, as befitting a film about the Holocaust, uses terms such as "deportation," "evacuation," and "resettlement" frequently.
- Defied by SS officer Rudolf Lange who has already massacred thousands of innocents and so has no interest in helping the others pretend that their hands are clean.
Lange: I have the real feeling I "evacuated" thirty thousand Jews already - by shooting them. Is what I did "evacuation"?
- The Crow:
- Idiocracy uses Rehabilitation as the name of a demolition derby show - and as a euphemism for execution in said show, no less.
- In Logans Run, Logan 5 (a Sandman) is explaining his job to Jessica 6:
Jessica 6: That's what you do, isn't it? Kill?
Logan 5: I've never killed anyone! I terminate Runners.
- Lord of the Rings: In Return of the King, the attack on Minas Tirith starts with Gothmog giving the order to "Release the prisoners." Cue severed Gondorian heads flying over the city walls.
- In the Disney version of Peter Pan, Captain Hook announces that the bomb he planted will cause Peter to "be blasted out of Never Land - forever!"
- Leia Organa's impending execution in Star Wars: A New Hope. "I'm afraid she's scheduled to be terminated."
- Played with in The 51st State: A small-time gangster asks his henchman to "take care" of someone. Later on, the gangster finds that person's dead body. "I told you to take care of him, not to take care of him!"
- The often parodied and referenced euphemism in The Godfather "He sleeps with the fishes."
- Used comically in the Bill Murray film The Man Who Knew Too Little, where the titular Man thinks he's acting in a play when he tells the assassin's bosses that a woman had "Gone #1" and subsequently "Flushed".
- In the TRON universe, the death of a program is called "deresolution" and programs who are killed are said to have been "derezzed." This crosses over with Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" as within the Grid, deresolution is equal to death."
- In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the substance for killing toons is called "the dip."
- Judge Doom also uses the word "execute" to describe what he is going to do to Roger after the rabbit is found guilty (Execute literally means "carry out an action").
- A rare use by the good guys in "Item 47," one of the Marvel One-Shots short films, when a SHIELD agent orders another to neutralize (kill) two civilians simply because they got their hands on some alien tech. The agent ordered to do the kill however, ultimately interprets the order differently.
- Subverted in the James Bond films, where MI6 and Bond rarely if ever use any such language, with the Judi Dench version of M outright using the word "kill" when discussing her orders (The World Is Not Enough, et al).
- In Real Genius, when a member of the think-tank won't go along with Decker's plan:
Decker: I'm afraid we're going to have to liberate George.
Carnagle: By "liberate," you mean "liquidate?"
- "You're terminated, fucker!"
- Ronan the Accuser of Guardians of the Galaxy has taken it upon himself to "cleanse" the galaxy.
- In True Lies, Schwarzenegger says "you're fired" right before he discharges the missile entangled with the villain into a building. This isn't the first film to have used this joke. It also appeared in Ricochet when the villain shoots someone hanging from a truck. There could be other examples.
- In Cloud Atlas, Fabricants—cloned waitresses in dystopic 22nd Century Korea—are told about "exaltation," which they believe is a honorary retirement ceremony but is actually where they are slaughtered for meat to feed to other Fabricants.
- In the Amtrak Wars series there are references to "pulling a trick", where trick is really TRIC - Terminal Radiation-Induced Cancer.
- In the Black Company novels, there's a part where Lady is running roughshod over a client city's entrenched priesthoods. A delegation is sent to her to demand that she free various prisoners; she tells her lieutenant something like "Tell them they've been released. They'll get the message."
- The Guild of Assassins in the Discworld novels prefer the term "inhume". They also refer to the victim as "the client.' The guild prides itself on it's professionalism and sophistication; no gentleman want to be killed by being hit over the head with a club by a two-dollar thug, after all.
- In Hogfather, Lord Downey uses the lovely phrase "removing inconvenient razorblades from the candyfloss of life." And in Guards! Guards!, the unnamed chief assassin is asked for help by Wonse (because of This Is Your Brain on Evil), he says that the only kind of help he can think of to give was usually only requested to be given as a "surprise present" to someone else. There are probably more examples. Suffice it to say the Assassins' Guild loves Deadly Euphemisms.
- The School in the Maximum Ride series "retires" those creations which have outlived their usefulness. Max, being Max, lampshades it.
- In an odd example, the term "expired" is more than just a euphemism: experiments have literal expiration dates.
- In Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, Never Let Me Go, "completed" is the term used when the clones die.
- And by "die", we mean "have had all their vital organs harvested for transplant into non-clone people".
- 1984. "Unperson" is the Newspeak term for a person who must be erased from history, making it look like they never existed at all... usually because the person has been arrested and executed. The Ministry of Truth edits newspaper and broadcast archives to remove all mention of such a person.
- And the OldSpeak (English) term for what happens is, the person is "vaporized" (he vanishes like vapor). At the time, probably a riff on the Soviet term, "liquidated". Alas, it sounds cheesy now, because in a Sci Fi context, the term "vaporized" is often used literally.
- There's actually a point where "vaporized" is said to be a literal use: O'Brien tells Winston that "we shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere."
- Interestingly enough, French "s'évaporer" or "se volatiliser", is still a common term for something vanishing.
- In John Ringo's Posleen War books, the Darhel will go to extreme lengths to avoid any words referring to death or violence.
- The Star Trek novel Federation has part of its plot in the late 21st Century, when the genocidal political movement Optimum used the term "contained" — "As in containing the spread of contagion."
- In The Bible, Jesus uses "sleep" or "rest" as a euphemism for death, confusing others at least more than once. However, this has sort of the opposite effect the trope usually has, as Jesus is trying to point out the impermanence of death, a metaphor he completes by actually resurrecting the person he's referring to back to life.
- The Giver uses the term "released," which is short for Released to Elsewhere. Subverted in that nobody knows it is a euphemism save the Giver (and later his successor, the Receiver) because nobody save him has any concept of death.
- In Stephen King's The Long Walk, in which an fatal endurance walk is the main plot, being shot is referred to as, "buying a ticket".
- The Church Militant Whitecloaks in The Wheel of Time once refer to the wholesale slaughter of a village as being "pacified."
- Similarly, a male channeler who has had his powers burned out of him (which usually results in his suicide within a few months) is referred to as "gentled," while a female would be "stilled."
- The Age of Legends survivors prefer the term "severed".
- In Warhammer 40,000, the books about the Horus Heresy, Horus uses the word 'illuminate' to describe killing.
- The characters of Watership Down have two forms of Deadly Euphemism: the more generally used is to 'stop running', while the other is a mythological reference: to 'meet the Black Rabbit.'
- In the Wild Cards series, people who die gruesomely of the eponymous Takisian retrovirus are said to have "turned the Black Queen". People who survive in various states of Body Horror are called "Jokers".
- S. Andrew Swann's Hostile Takeover trilogy uses the phrase "orbital reduction of target" for Orbital Bombardment.
- A Russian poet Maximillian Voloshin wrote a poem called Terminology which contains the various euphemisms used in Communist Russia. There are more than a dozen of them.
- In The Atrocity Archive, Bob mentions to Mo that the Laundry has an agreement with Donald Knuth to keep volume four of The Art of Computer Programming from being published, which is why it spent so long in Development Hell: "He doesn't publish it, and we don't render him metabolically challenged."
- In Timeline-191 by Harry Turtledove, the Confederacy uses "population reduction" to refer to the mass killing of black Africans, especially those contained in concentration camps.
- In You'll Like It Here (Everybody Does) by Ruth White, anyone that reaches the age of 65 is sent away on a bus for "Vacation 65." While there is an actual vacation involved, at the end of the third day, they're administered a lethal injection. Most people pretend like they don't know the truth, though they actually do, thanks to the efforts of La Résistance.
- The 1975 Berkely Mather novel "With Extreme Prejudice" takes its name from the phrase "terminated with extreme prejudice". Within the book a number of different phrases are used, most commonly "buttoning" up a target.
- XPD by Len Deighton, referring to the "Expedient Demise" by British Intelligence of anyone who discovers the secret at the heart of the novel.
Live Action TV
- Bones has an episode in which Booth and Brennan are unsure of whether a murder actually occurred or not. To avoid letting any of the potential victim's family members know of their suspicions, they continually refer to him as having been "translated."
- When deciding how to take care of a burglar in Bottom, Eddie lampshades the trope by suggesting: "Why don't we give him the old fish fingers? They've been in there for months, they're absolutely lethal." Before Richie reminds him that they've been eaten already, which is what caused the toilet to be unflushable for the last three days.
- In seasons five of Breaking Bad Saul suggests that Walt might have to send Hank "to Belize". Belize is where Mike supposedly fled to escape prosecution but Saul has by that point figured out that Walt has killed Mike. Walt is furious at the suggestion and tells Saul that if he brings the matter up again then Saul is the one who will be "going to Belize".
- The Alternate Universe Cybermen from the new Doctor Who refer to killing as "deletion", and to assimilating humans into their ranks as "upgrading". Given how the rest of the show doesn't shy from discussions of mortality, this probably reflects on the net-speak nature of the Cybermen rather than any censorship.
- This is supported by "The Next Doctor". The Cybermen are explicitly incapable of understanding certain human concepts. When a Human ally of theirs claims she will do her best she has to explain it as "operating at peak efficiency". It's probable that the Cybermen have no real concept of death (for whatever reason) and deletion is the closest analogue to it they can come up with.
- Classic Doctor Who also gives us an example: The 7th Doctor serial "Ghost Light" describes death as "going to Java", with anyone who's said to be going to Java either dead or is going to be killed pretty soon.
- "Do not be alarmed, this is a kindness."
- Of course, what they don't realize is that they are actually just doing their job, but in the wrong way.
- The Daleks, of course, never kill anyone; they "EXTERMINATE!" them.
- The one-off villains the Krillitanes, who disguised themselves as school teachers, got rid of the human teachers when their plan was ready. Or as their boss put it, they took early lunch.
- Father Ted did the "take care of" variant, when Ted realised exactly how his psychotic friend was going to take care of a large quantity of rabbits.
: When I said "take care of the rabbits", I was thinking in a Julie Andrews
kind of way. I now realise that you thought I meant sort of an Al Pacino
- Being "Walked down the alley" by Chris and Snoop in The Wire
- On the short-lived series Kidnapped, the assassin used by the bad guys is referred to as The Accountant, and they routinely order him to "close the account" on a particular person.
- La Femme Nikita: "Canceled". "Abeyance operatives". For such a cold and calculated organization Section 1 do like euphemisms, and they don't seem to even try to hide their meanings.
- Likewise, in the remake Nikita, Division refers to killing their own agents/trainees/prisoners as "canceling" them.
- There was a Sliders episode where they land on a world where people can get free money for a chance to be killed. They use euphemisms and the main characters aren't aware why they're getting the money.
- Lampshaded by the Garak of the Mirror Universe in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He tells Kira that tomorrow the Intendant (Kira's double from the Mirror Universe) will be "gone." "Gone?" asks Kira and Mirror-Garak repeats "gone" and then comments "Please don't make me use some foolish euphemism." A bit later, he tells Kira that he doesn't go along with her plan, then her doctor-friend (Julian Bashir) will instead be "gone."
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Nemesis", the Defenders and the Kradin refer to the killing of an enemy as "nullifying" them.
- Gloriously lampshaded in That Mitchell and Webb Look here:
"Have him removed"? "Take him out of the picture"? I thought we agreed at the meeting that these terms were needlessly ambiguous. We all agreed that when we want someone murdered
, i.e., deliberately killed to death
, then that's what we were gonna say!"
- Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger also uses "deletion" but in this case it refers to a specific form of Deader Than Dead. The extraterrestrial criminals are not only executed, but their remains are sterilised so that no clone can be made...unless they left genetic material elsewhere...
- On The West Wing, President Bartlet has to have it explained to him why they're sending in a "CIA wet team" for an operation in a landlocked country. "Wet" does not refer to an aquatic specialty, but that they are expected to get wet with blood.
- In Season 7 of 24, a terrorist dictator takes control of the White House and captures the president, her daughter, and a bunch of other hostages. The president asks him to release the hostages, since she's the one that he wants. He shoots one of the hostages and asks if she'd like him to "release" any more of them, starting with her daughter.
- In the Firefly episode "House of Gold" Nandi tells Mal why she quit being a Companion, which involved smashing a dulcimer during practice out of frustration. She then tells him about the pimp who owned the House of Gold brothel before she took over.
Mal: What happened to him?
Nandi: Let's just say he ain't playin' the dulcimer anymore either. (she and Mal laugh and clink glasses)
- Burn Notice: One of Mike's voiceovers in "Hard Bargain" uses one while describing hostage rescue tactics, including why he's mixing up a batch of thermite.
"Rescuing a hostage isn't about battering rams and guns. Charge through a door with a gun and chances are the person you're trying to save will be the first one lying on the floor dying of acute lead poisoning."
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. occasionally uses "crossing off" to refer to killing an enemy.
- The Les Misérables musical frequently uses "sleeping" rather than "dead" (i.e., "Please stay 'till I am sleeping," from Fantine as she's dying) in the songs." Also, most of the sinister feel is absent, as the meaning is immediately clear from context and there are plenty of times where they say "die" instead.
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: "And I guarantee to give you, without a penny's charge, the closest shave you have ever known."
- In Urinetown, anyone who refuses to use the pay toilets, or otherwise causes trouble, is shipped off to the eponymous town.
Bobby: So what's it like, this "Urinetown" that I've heard so much about?
Officer Barrel: Perhaps better for us to "show" you.
Bobby: Wait a minute, you're just going to throw me off this roof and that's supposed to be Urinetown?! Death is Urinetown?!
Officer Lockstock: That's one interpretation.
- Whenever the Seven Deities of Asura's Wrath go out "saving souls," they're slaughtering humans for their Mantra, when they undergo an "exorcism," they're taking out their own ships to destroy a threat on board, and when they attempt a "purification," they're straight up killing someone.
- The 1997 Blade Runner video game by Westwood Studios also uses the film's euphemism of "retirement" when referring to replicants.
- In the Crusader games, the summary execution of a WEC official on the orders of a more senior official was termed "Early Retirement".
- Dwarf Fortress: Losing is fun!
- El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron: A rare heroic example. God has commanded you to "purify" the Fallen Angels. That said, Lucifel straight up tells you to kill them.
- In Final Fantasy X, Tidus is kept in the dark about how Yuna was going to die at the end of the pilgrimage for the bulk of the game. Summoners who complete their pilgrimage (thus defeating Sin and dying a horrible senseless death) are known as High Summoners.
- Though that's not the real euphemism. High Summoner is a title granted for defeating Sin, which is why it is given to Yuna when she permanently vanquishes Sin and lives. The real euphemism is that people are talking in code about it, like saying that a summoner's job is to bring peace to Spira (which it is, but there's no way an outsider like Tidus would know that this involves them laying down their lives in the process).
- "Final Summoning" would be another one, since it's basically a euphemism for "commit suicide in spectacular fashion".
- Final Fantasy XIII has the "Purge," in which citizens who are supposedly contaminated by elements from Pulse are "deported" or "relocated" to there, being referred to as "brave Pulse pioneers." In actuality, the Purge is cover for the mass execution of any of these citizens who are unable to escape. As the character Lightning explains — "Sanctum logic. They conjured up the Purge to eliminate a threat. I mean, why carry the danger all the way to Pulse? Why not just stamp it out here? Execution masquerading as exile. That's all the Purge ever was."
- A one-off example in Fire Emblem Awakening, after Anna has taken advantage of Tiki's celebrity status for a Get Rich Quick Scheme:
And you will give me every coin you have so far earned in my name. I shall see if I can't return them to their former owners personally. Anna:
Oh, come on! you're killing me here! Tiki:
You are free, of course, to decline. In which case you may pursue a new career opportunity in food services.
- The Overwatch dispatcher from Half-Life 2 speaks almost entirely in these. "Sterilize" is her usual euphemism for "kill on sight". She seems to favour medical terms.
- The original Homeworld has a cutscene referring to the fate of the captain of a captured Taiidan ship as "The subject did not survive the interrogation". It's not clear if it's an euphemism for 'we tortured him so much during the interrogation that he died on us' or 'when he told us why they burned down the planet we were so furious we killed him'.
- In a Shout-Out to Blade Runner, reploids in the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero games are "retired".
- However, the word "kill" was used in Mega Man X: Command Mission, such as when Nana refers to Silver Horn's threat of killing all the POWs if she refused to cooperate.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, when Koops is reunited with his father Koopley, he says "For ten long years we all thought you'd... you know! We thought your game was over!"
- GLaDOS uses the term "euthanized", in reference to both test subjects and also to inanimate objects.
- Or so the player assumes.
- "Baked" was another one, although she's pretty straightforward about what the green stuff at the bottom of some test chambers will do to test subjects.
- In Star Wars Battlefront II, the Imperial player receives a reward for the 'pacifying' Kashyyyk. Apparently, the only good Wookiee is a passive Wookiee.
- StarCraft: Protoss don't annihilate planets, they purify them.
- In Syndicate (2012), "unusual and innovative lobbying techniques" are used to describe a multiple murder and putting of people into comas.
- In The World Ends with You, no one dies; they get "erased." The Players are already dead; they're all playing for a second chance at life.
- In World of Warcraft, Algalon the Observer talks about "re-origination" as the consequence of a world's failure to measure up to the standards of his masters, the Titans. "Re-origination" refers to the complete destruction of all life in a world followed immediately by the remaking of life in the world according to the Titans' original blueprints.
- Supreme Commander, the Aeon plan to convert everyone into The Way, and cleanse the galaxy of non-believers.
- One of the traps in The Forest is named the "Happy Birthday" trap.
- Watch_Dogs. Villain Clients: When dealing with a freaking slaver, don't assume that "Take care of her" means protect the liability. You can shoot the guy who says he did it to protect his client, but he has kids.
- In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, after learning that the Meriff is blocking the signal to Helios, Jack tells the players that he plans to have a "talk" with him. All the characters begin to lampshade the use of this trope, but Jack then clarifies that he really is just planning to talk with the guy.
: I understand and acknowledge your emphatic use of the world "Talk"!
: I'm not helping you torture him, Jack.
: You mean the fun kind of the talk or the dull kind?
: Implied Violence! Now my dear, you are speaking my language!
- In Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, when Louisa Dem Five's friend Oort is killed, she holds a "New Hong Kong wake" ... during which she secretly poisons his murderer with a drug overdose.
Qvakk: "Sorry I ruined Oort's wake..."
Louisa: "You didn't, dear. This is what a New Hong Kong wake is."
- Parodied in Darths & Droids here:
Imperial Officer: Right, you lot. We're the welcoming party, so let's act like it. We're giving them the "full tour".
Clone Trooper: Right, sir! The "full tour", eh?
Imperial Officer: Er... by "full tour" I mean as much of the tour as is possible given the incomplete nature of the Memorial Gardens.
Clone Trooper: Oh! I thought you meant something completely different. That was lucky.
- In the troll society in Homestuck, the less useful members of the populace - such as, say, the disabled - are in risk of "culling".
- Then inverted in pre-Scratch troll society, where "culling" means "looked after".
- Played with in Sluggy Freelance, when Torg and Riff are hired by a sinister figure to arrange a "dirt nap" for somebody. They start by digging an out-of-the-way grave...at which point Sam shows up, to take a nap in dirt, as vampires do. The sinister figure owed Sam a favour for fitting his wife with cement shoes (they're a great workout for your calves!).
- Lampshaded in Thunderstruck, where Stella Wincott correctly anticipates this trope: "I'm sure you have some other word for it. Some nice, sanitized euphemism for killing. Well, go ahead."
- Jeff The Killer of Creepypasta fame practically has "GO TO SLEEP" as his catchphrase by now.
- The immortal elves in Tales Of MU don't like to talk about dying. The pale-skinned surface elves "take leave" when ennui sets in. Their dark-skinned cousins "greet the goddess".
- The SCP Foundation does not kill. It "terminates". Sometimes people get killed. Their style guide explains the difference.
- ReBoot often used "erase" and "delete" in place of death. Since this show is inside a computer this is appropriate given what erasing and deleting do to actual code. There's really no attempt at hiding what those words actually mean in this show.
- Subverted on an episode of The Mask, that parodied Planet of the Apes. Characters are told that they will be "terminated", and assume the natives are out to kill them, but as it turns out that just means they will be fired from the city-enveloping corporation (which they, being from another time, don't actually work for).
- Parodied on The Simpsons:
Fat Tony: The sit-down’s tonight? Again this Palm Pilot has failed to remind me! I believe this needs to be hot-synced. [Louie takes Palm Pilot and shoots it] What are you doing?!
Louie: I thought you meant ‘hot-sync’ it. You know how it is with us, everything means kill!
- Fat Tony and his gang talk like this quite often. When, for example, Tony orders Louie to "take care" of a woman who has been annoying him, Louie worries whether his boss meant for him to take care of her or...take care of her. ("If I get it wrong, he's gonna take care of me!")
- Another Fat Tony example: In "A Fish Called Selma" there's was a rumor spreading around about washed-up actor Troy McClure committing sexual acts with fish at an aquarium. Fat Tony tells Legs that Troy "sleeps with the fishes", Legs assumed he meant he was dead and is disgusted when Tony tells him the rumor.
- Inverted in the episode wherein Bart and Lisa suspect Ned Flanders of murdering his wife, and their suspicions are apparently confirmed when Rod and Todd ask where their mother is, and Ned sadly tells them: "She's with God now." (Maude had actually gone on a religious retreat, and Ned was sad because he'd accidentally killed one of her plants.)
- On one occasion, when Mr. Burns lets a damaging fact slip:
Oh! I've said too much
. Smithers, use the amnesia ray
You mean the revolver, sir? Burns:
Precisely. Be sure to wipe your own memory clear when you've finished.
- Jackie Chan Adventures: Shendu (as a spirit possessing Valmont's body) told that the reports on his "demise" had been exaggerated.
- Subverted in one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.
Spongebob: Squidward... he's pushing up daisies!
- In the Hey Arnold! episode: "Old Iron Man", Grandpa enters a triathlon with his competitive friend Jimmy. During the swimming portion of the race, they get lost in the ocean and worry they're about to die and begin exchanging euphemisms.
Grandpa: We're going to Davy Jones' Locker!
Jimmy: Kicking the bucket!
Grandpa: Buying the water farm!
Jimmy: Checking out of the Hotel of Life!
Grandpa: And checking into the Hotel of Death!
Jimmy: The Big Roundup!
Grandpa: The Last Tango in Paris!
Grandpa: I know but it was my turn and I ran out of euphemisms and I didn't want to lose the game!
- In "Grandpa's Birthday", Grandpa (worried that he's going to pass away on his 81st birthday) uses the phrase "Buying the farm" to Arnold. Arnold takes it literally at first.
- Home Movies - the kids sometimes think they're hearing such a euphemism, like when a news reporter said she wanted to "do a piece on them".
- "Special treatment" (Sonderbehandlung) was one of the euphemisms used by the Nazis. Others include the special units (Sonderkommandos, work units of death camps), task forces (Einsatzgruppen, death squads), special action (Sonderaktion, depopulating a Ghetto).
- The Nazis had a sort of hierarchy of euphemisms concerning the Holocaust: the phrase "resettlement in the East" was used for general public consumption. "Final Solution to the Jewish Question," for most government documents, "liquidation" for those pertaining directly to the Holocaust. "Annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe" was used only in the most closed circumstances, to those who knew the stakes.
- The term "concentration camp" was a Deadly Euphemism used by the Nazis for the death camps they used to exterminate Jews and other undesirables. The original definition of "concentration camp" was a place to imprison large populations of people without the intent of killing them, similar to the internment camps that held Japanese Americans during World War II. The "euphemistic" definition has almost completely supplanted the original definition.
- Somewhat justified, considering that not all of the Nazi concentration camps were death camps, and some were both death camps and labor camps, so it's only natural the two would be conflated.
- The Soviets (more specifically Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov), during the Winter War, referred to the bombings on the Finnish people as "airdropping food to the starving Finnish." Ironically, this resulted in the Finnish nicknaming the Soviet cluster bombs as "Molotov's breadbaskets," and coining the infamous name of their improvised incendiary weapon, the Molotov Cocktail. "A drink to go with the bread."
- In World War II, the Japanese were not invading and conquering Asia, they were "liberating" Asia from colonial rule.
- Similarly, there was no Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950. Instead, it was a "peaceful liberation".
- The United States did not invade Iraq in 2003; instead it began "the disarmament of the Iraqi regime".
- Governments "neutralizing" their victims.
- An interesting example is the phrase "terminate with extreme prejudice". The original phrase was "terminate with prejudice", which in the business world meant "fire him and don't forget why".
- The history of this is rather interesting:
- Originally, the terminology arose in the courts. A case dismissed "without prejudice" could be filed again, typically because the case did was not decided on the merits and the dismissal was on some technical ground: for instance, if you made a mistake in your filings,note or if the court you sued in didn't have jurisdiction to hear the case.note A case is dismissed "with prejudice" when it is considered a res judicata (an adjudicated affair, i.e., a settled dispute); usually this means it was decided on the merits, and therefore cannot be filed again. note
- By analogy, the business world came to use the phrases to differentiate between employees who were merely laid off (terminated without prejudice) and those who were fired "for cause", i.e., for misconduct (terminated with prejudice). Employees terminated without prejudice, having been let go for economic reasons, might be rehired at some point in the future; those terminated with prejudice, having been let go for bad behavior, will not be.
- In the military, the phrase originally started as a check-box on Army after-action reports: Terminate without prejudice meant let an agent or operative go but allow possible future employment, terminate with prejudice meant that he was unsuitable for future employment. "Terminated with extreme prejudice" was never used in any official capacity, but was more of a (gruesome) joke used to describe anybody who died in combat or in any other way. The phrase's current meaning caught on after the New York Times published a (sensationalist) article about the Green Berets in Vietnam.
- Euphemisms and coded language are often used by criminals to try to avoid detection. However, coded language and euphemisms can be introduced as evidence of conspiracy so you're screwed coming and going.
- In the Philippine police and military, the term "salvage" is used in place of "summary execution." (This term was adopted by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale.) This also caused some confusion with the line "Is there any way to salvage this man?" was uttered in the Starship Troopers film when it was shown in the country.
- During the Soeharto regime days in Indonesia, being "secured" (more literally, "taken to a safe place") either refers to anything from house arrest, exile, or death sentence.
- In (if memory serves) Colombia, the term used is "disappear", as in people getting disappeared.
- Various places in South America, and it's not an official euphemism, but used by the public to refer to the sudden and clandestine nature of the kidnappings and executions.
- And then it became an official term: the crime against humanity of enforced disappearance.
- Memorialized in the Catch-22 quote: "They're going to disappear him? They can't disappear him! That's impossible! It's not even good grammar!"
- Destructive nuclear potency is measured in sunshine units. A related term employed when discussing nuclear war, megadeath, is only marginally less upsetting than just coming out and saying "one million civilian casualties" (it's much shorter, though, so it might not actually be used as a euphemism).
- The word execute was itself originally one of these — it was being used in the "carry out an order" sense, short for "execute the death sentence".
- A similar example would be "undertaker", although here it is just dealing with the disposal of dead bodies, not causing them to be dead. The word is a "false friend" for German-speakers, as it sounds like a literal equivalent of "Unternehmer" = entrepreneur.
- Some of the American states which used to execute offenders by the electric chair called their executioners "State Electricians".
- The official name for the French executioner was "Chief/Deputy Executor of the criminal rulings for the French Republic"note because he had to "execute" the capital rulings.
- A couple examples from the United States include enhanced interrogation for torture and contingency operations for war.
- In the legal sense, the current conflicts are not war. There was no declaration of war. The United States has not issued a declaration of war since 1941.
- "Liquidate" was the preferred word for executions during Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union, though it became widely known that it was as a synonym for "kill".
- Many English-speaking militaries ironically invert this, using "kill" in contexts referring to vehicles and structures (which are usually manned, but not actually alive themselves).
- Brit military slang: 'we slotted a couple and the rest had second thoughts'. Have also heard 'gack/ed' and 'croak/ed'.
- American military personnel are the same, referring to enemy structures, vehicles, and positions, almost anything they fire on that's subsequently destroyed, as "kills."
- Wet job, from the Russian мокрое дело (mokroye delo) refers to assassination, usually in an espionage context. The term dates back to 19th century criminal slang for a robbery involving murder, because the victim gets wet with blood.
- It is still used in criminal context in modern Russian and Polish, where 'wet job specialist' means a 'hitman' or 'assassin'.
- It's also still used in America. "Wet job," "wet work" or "wet team" is assumed to mean murder in the course of doing whatever the job is.
- "Police Action", first used by Harry Truman to describe the Korean War, now in common use. It generally means "a war that is not officially declared as a war, but usually cites some violation of international law and/or explicit authorization from the United Nations as justification." This makes the terminology make a fair bit of sense: a state that violated international law is, in effect, a criminal, and in the absence of a neutral world police force, states are (in the modern understanding) entitled to enforce international law on the behalf of the international community—if the international community, as embodied by the UN (and specifically the Security Council) says it's OK.
- Several years before that, in 1947 and 1949, Dutch military actions in Indonesia (then a Dutch colony) were also referred to as "police actions", even though they resembled the Vietnam War more than anything, including entire villages being massacred.
- During the Rwandan Genocide the mass murders were described by the government as "working". For example, in one province, where the local governor didn't want to participate in the genocide, Rwanda's presidents ordered him removed, so that they could "work".
- Subway/train suicides in Japan are referred to as "human damage incidents."
- Similar to the aviation term for a plane hitting a bird, 'bird strike incident'. What Measure Is a Non-Human?
- It's common in New York too, where service disruptions caused by people being run over (suicide or otherwise) are always referred to as "police investigations." That term is also used to refer to literal police investigations, so it can be somewhat ambiguous. Subway workers and those who picked up the term from other sources typically refer to such a thing as a "12-9;" the radio code for such incidents.
- In Germany (or Hamburg at least) the incredibly bureaucratic word "Personenanfahrschaden" (untranslatable - maybe Person knock-down damage) was in use, but this practice was discontinued, probably because of silliness and a not really working euphemism.
- Google translate offered the alternative "Personen Anfahrschäden", which it translated to 'People ramming'.
- Oddly, within the London Underground, public service announcements about these incidents are likely to be euphemism-free, e.g. 'There are delays on the Jubilee Line due to a suicide at Finchley Road' or 'A person under the train at Dollis Hill'. Meanwhile, amongst Transport For London staff the euphemism one-under is more likely to be used, apparently.
- In France, Paris, such incidents are called "traveler incidents". You know it's just someone getting sick or maybe walking on tracks when it's just a "traveler incident", but when it's a "dire traveler incident", you know your train is screwed and you'll be late, because someone died and time will be spent cleaning (and collecting evidence for investigating whether it's a suicide or murder).
- Most of the time, this happens in in France in subways right near hospitals. Usually because someone was admitted there for a suicide, was let out, then killed themselves at the nearby tracks.
- Pseudo-Mafia slang: "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes" (no Mermaid Problem here) usually refers to a body that's been dumped into the nearest body of water, usually with some concrete to weigh the body down, sometimes stuffed into a 55-gallon drum. Generally when such a victim washes up, it's said that "police suspect foul play". Ya think?
- If it is said that someone, generally in the armed forces, is not taking prisoners, what do you think happens to the people they capture? A catch and release program? Disarming them and sending them on their way? Maybe... but probably not.
- Similar with "giving no quarter".
- In the middle and early modern ages, trials for heresy (later also extended to those for witchcraft) would end with the clerical judges handing over those found guilty to the secular authorities, commending them to their mercy. The secular authorities invariably executed them, often by burning at the stake.
- Although it was no secret that clerical court had no authority to actually sentence anyone for anything but penance, so they had to delegate any corporal punishment to a secular authority. The second part still stands, given way higher rate of convictions and much more brutal proceedings of secular courts.
- Though if one confessed and renounced one's heresy, and did not return to it, one could usually escape with a lesser penance. Relapsed heretics, however...
- Quite a few courts considered cutting your throat before you were burned a lesser penance.
- In Finnish criminal slang, a hitman is called a "torpedo".
- 'Ethnic cleansing' actually manages to be slightly worse than most of these euphemisms, since it's blatantly racist on top of being euphemistic (and, of course, genocidal.)
- "Falling down the stairs" is a common one (in the UK at least) to describe police beating up prisoners, either for interrogation or just revenge. Particularly unfortunate prisoners may manage to fall down the stairs in a single-storey building.
- In Communist-era Poland, political prisoners were often subjected to 'exercise routine' (literally 'path of health'), an euphemism for old-fashioned running a gauntlet or just a simple beating. 'Falling down the stairs' was also a common explanation of bruises.
- Unfortunately, a child who "fell down the stairs" (in the UK again) is an euphemism for having suffered physical abuse at the hands of the parents.
- Police and traffic-safety dispatchers in Arizona and New Mexico sometimes have difficulty with the fact Navajos prefer to have nothing to do with dead bodies — not only do they try not to look at them, they also don't say "dead" or any synonym. "He has stopped moving" tends to confuse dispatchers who don't know it's a euphemism, since "stop moving" could mean unconsciousness as well.
- In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the British military generally used the fairly-cheerful-sounding "knocked on the head" in place of the more accurate, but somewhat demoralizing, "suffered agonizing injuries that ended in death."
- During World War 2, the Royal Air Force said that they would fundamentally shift to a policy called "area bombing" or "morale bombing". A British journalist then said that a campaign of morale bombing was really a cosmetic term for "massacre".
- "Dehousing" civilians was another euphemism used in strategic bombing. It was often expected that civilians would be in the structures being dehoused.
- One of the court positions of the Ottoman Empire was the "Bostancı-başı," or "Head gardener." While the men he oversaw were technically responsible for the grounds of the palace, they were also bodyguards, and what the head gardener was actually pruning was people; he served as the emperor's chief executioner.
- A (usually) non-fatal variant: members of the US Armed Forces sometimes refer to the Purple Heart (a medal given to military personnel who are wounded in action) as the "Enemy Marksmanship Medal."
- A famous murder trial in the UK hinged on this. The accused had been charged for participating in the murder of a police officer during a robbery, by encouraging his accomplice, the gunman, to kill him. The case hinged on whether what he had said to the accomplice, "Let him have it," meant "Shoot him" or "Hand the gun over to him." He was convicted and hanged, but later was posthumously pardoned.
- Victims of the Soviet Union's gulag system would sometimes—either at sentencing or later as a punishment—be "denied the right to correspondence." This was the official explanation to family and friends for why someone was far too executed to write home. The term used for a gulag sentence itself—"corrective labor"—also probably counts considering how often this simply meant a slow lingering death sentence instead of a simple bullet to the head.
- Official verbage for vehicle accidents can veer into this, especially when aircraft are involved. When a plane crashes into a mountainside due to pilot error (perhaps due to poor visibility, as opposed to the plane itself malfunctioning), it is known as "Controlled Flight Into Terrain". A slightly more colorful expression is "Augering in", in reference to a tool designed to bore holes into wood and other solid surfaces.
- Although "Auguring in" might only be half a euphemism, since it was originally used to describe an aircraft going down in a spin; either a straight one, or a flat spin. They were turning like a drill, thus "auguring." Unsurprisingly, this was mostly combat aircraft.
- When someone dies, there are all manner of expressions used to talk around the uncomfortable topic, including saying that they have "passed", that they are "late", or that they have "bought the farm".