Euphemism In Pride And Prejudice

Definition of Euphemism

Euphemisms substitute gentle or unclear words for harsh, impolite and unpleasant ones. This allows writers to avoid offending readers while showing the norms and sensitivities of the time. Euphemisms do more than just being polite. They also highlight the underlying tensions, biases and values in a society. This makes them a powerful tool for building characters and exploring themes.

In Jane Austen’s masterpiece “Pride and Prejudice,” the writer skillfully uses euphemism to handle the intricate social customs of the early 19th century upper-class England. Austen use of euphemisms reflect how much that society focused on decorum, etiquette and unwritten conversational rules. With this device, Austen subtly criticizes the social hierarchies, gender roles and economics surrounding marriage at the time. However, she maintains the surface politeness that both her characters and English gentlefolk demanded.

Examples of Euphemism in “pride and prejudice

Following are the examples of euphemisms in “Pride and Prejudice,” illustrating Austen’s skillful use of this literary device:

1- “In want of a wife”: In the famous opening line of the novel, Austen writes, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The phrase “in want of a wife” euphemistically suggests the social expectation for wealthy men to marry, subtly critiquing the commodification of marriage.

2- “Establishment”: The term “establishment” is often used to refer to the financial security and social status a good marriage would bring to a woman. For instance, Charlotte Lucas’s acceptance of Mr. Collins is justified by her pursuit of a “comfortable home” ,a euphemism for the economic transaction underlying many marriages of the time.

3- “Accomplished woman”: While discussing what makes a woman accomplished, the characters use this term to encapsulate a host of expected virtues, skills and graces. This euphemism glosses over the rigorous and often restrictive standards imposed on women to make them ‘marketable’ in the marriage market.

4- “Connections”: The word “connections” is frequently used to refer obliquely to the social and familial networks that influence marriage prospects and social standing. When Mrs. Bennet speaks of Jane’s potential marriage to Mr. Bingley, she is keen on the advantageous “connections” it would afford highlighting the strategic social maneuvering behind marriage.

5- “Indisposed”: This term is used several times to describe characters who are unwell or otherwise unable to fulfill social obligations, often downplaying serious emotional or physical conditions. For example, Jane Bennet is described as “indisposed” when she falls ill at Netherfield, a delicate way of indicating her sickness while maintaining propriety.

6- “Particular friend”: This phrase is used to denote a romantic interest as seen in Mr. Collins’s letter where he hints at his intention to choose a wife from among the Bennet sisters. He while describing his interest as seeking a “particular friend” softens the blunt reality of his marriage proposal and the transactional nature of such unions during the period.

7- “Improved acquaintance”: This phrase is used to describe the deepening of social relations which may hint at romantic interest without explicitly stating it. For instance, when Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s relationship begins to change, their interactions described in the context of the period as an “improved acquaintance,” a euphemism that masks the growing affection and complexity of their relationship beneath the surface of polite society.

8- “Good understanding”: It is employed to describe the harmonious rapport between potential and actual marital partners. This term euphemizes the compatibility and mutual respect that might not necessarily involve romantic love. For example, Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins are said to have a “good understanding,” which delicately veils the pragmatic and unromantic foundation of their marriage.

9- “Fortune”: This term is frequently used for the reference of financial status and inheritance, without directly mentioning money, which would be considered crass. The characters in the novel discuss about the “fortune” and evaluate that person’s desirability as a marriage partner in economic terms, as seen in the discussions about Mr. Bingley’s annual income.

10- “Delicate attentions”: This euphemism is used to describe the subtle courtship behaviors, which gentlemen should show towards the ladies they are interested in without implying any direct or unseemly advances. For example, the behavior of Mr. Darcy towards Elizabeth during her stay at Netherfield is marked by “delicate attentions” signaling his interest in a manner deemed appropriate for a gentleman.

Literary devices related to euphemism

Euphemism itself is a literary tool, but there are other devices that have similarities and can be used together with it to subtly imply meaning or discuss sensitive topics. Two such literary devices related to euphemism are:


This involves deliberately making a situation seem less significant than it really is, softening the blow rather than substituting words.

Relation to Euphemism: Both understatement and euphemism aim to tone down the harshness of an expression – understatement by diminishing the apparent importance, euphemism by using a milder replacement phrase.

Example: In “Pride and Prejudice,” Mr. Bennet calls his daughter’s elopement “an evening of wonders,” an understatement downplaying the gravity of the scandal.


A form of understatement using double negatives to subtly affirm a point. It makes a claim by denying its opposite.

Relation to Euphemism: Litotes can subtly soften impact like euphemism does. Both convey meaning less directly than a plain statement.

Example: Elizabeth’s use of litotes when describing Mr. Darcy as “not too proud” employs double negatives to indirectly call him quite proud while softening her judgment.

So while euphemism substitutes blunt words or phrases with politer versions, related devices like understatement and litotes also allow authors to indirectly imply their intent or discuss sensitive topics with more subtlety.

Euphemism in Pride and Prejudice
Euphemism in Pride and Prejudice

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