Metonymy Vs Euphemism

Figurative tools in literature serve as the fundamental pillar of comprehensibility of concepts and the increase of semantics of communication. Metonymy and euphemism are two figures of speech that adorn one’s speech and fill gaps in the meaning. At the same time, it can become a source of misunderstanding and ambiguity. Although the definition of paraphrasing and summarizing each entail the use of substituting one term for another, still these two techniques are intended for use in different goals and work differently.

What is Metonymy?

Metonymy is a kind of speech image in which the representation of the image of the thing or idea is replaced by a name of closely related thing. 

Actually, this type of a word-for-word replacement employs one word with another one that is grammatically related, usually because the two words are situated next to each other in a sentence. 

It is not metonymy that relates to a part-to-whole of a whole-to-part relationship but to a connection based on conceptual proximity.

What is Euphemism?

Euphemisms soften language by using gentler or indirect terms to replace those considered harsh, blunt, or offensive.

They address sensitive or unpleasant topics without causing discomfort. However, the media sometimes prioritizes sensationalism over accuracy.

By focusing on shocking aspects, they may neglect to report on the true nature of challenging situations, avoiding difficult or painful aspects of a story.

Metonymy vs Euphemism

DefinitionSubstitution based on close associationSubstitution to avoid harsh or offensive terms
PurposeTo refer to something by a related conceptTo make a situation less severe or sensitive
RelationshipContiguous, closely relatedMilder or indirect expression
Examples“The pen is mightier than the sword”“Passed away” instead of “died”
Metonymy Vs Euphemism

Examples of Metonymy in Literature


“A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway

The protagonist Frederic Henry describes his experience in World War-I:

“We went to the door and I saw the grey light. ‘I must go,’ I said. ‘Get back and get some sleep. I’ll wake you for the five o’clock.’ I went out the door and suddenly I felt lonely and empty. I had treated seeing Catherine very lightly, I had gotten somewhat drunk and had nearly forgotten to come but when I could not see her there I was feeling lonely and hollow”.

In the passage, the writer uses the image “the grey light ” instead of the usual “the dawn” to emphasize the location of the scene. 

This, however, not only makes the imagery much more sensorial, but it also gives the description an air of estheticism. The color grey is typically associated with the dawn of the morning when the sun is before rising.


“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

The titular character famously delivers a soliloquy that begins with the line:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobly in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?”

Here, the phrase “Slings and Arrows” employs a metonymy. It describes the hardships and challenges one faced in the life. it is also used to symbolize the abstract concept of the difficulties of life.

Slings and arrows were weapons used in Shakespeare’s time. The writer compares misfortunes to these weapons in order to show that how much they hurt people. The metonymy effectively communicates the idea that life can be a constant battle.

The vivid imagery of slings and arrows makes the concept more tangible and relatable to the readers. The use of metonymy shows the internal struggle of the Hamlet. He is struggling to decide whether to face the problems or to give up. The use of metonymy makes his speech more poetic and memorable.


“1984” by George Orwell

The narrator describes the state of society:

“In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the Police Patrol, snooping into people’s windows”.

Here, the term “bluebottle” has been used as a metonymy to describe the helicopter. The helicopter is compared to a bluebottle fly.

The writer compares the movement of helicopter to a bluebottle fly in order to show the unpredictable flying pattern. The use of metonymy also emphasizes the oppressive nature of the surveillance state. It shows that the Police Patrol is always available to monitor the citizens.

The comparison of an insect also dehumanizes the authorities. It make them seem less like individuals and more like a faceless controlling entity.

Examples of Euphemism in Literature


“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

The character Jim, an escaped slave, uses a euphemism to describe his plans:

“I tole ’em I reck’n’d a body could reform the ole man with a shotgun, maybe, but we didn’t have no shotgun. So they said, let’s hide the tools in the coffin, and let on we forgot. Then we’ll all be together in there, and when he comes and opens it to get his tools, we’ll jump out and plug him”

The writer uses the phrase “plug him” as a less harsh way instead of saying “shoot or kill”. The use of euphemism makes the violent plan as less shocking.

The writer uses this euphemism to show the harsh realities of the time and how people used language to make the violent acts seem less serious even in casual talks.


“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

The protagonist Holden Caulfield uses a euphemism to describe his brother’s death:

“I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it. I even tried to break all the windows on the station wagon we had that summer, but my hand was already broken and everything by that time, and I couldn’t do it. It was a very stupid thing to do, I’ll admit, but I hardly didn’t even know I was doing it, and you didn’t know Allie”.

In this case, the use of “the night he died” in place of “the night she died” symbolizes death, which refers to the night when Allie died. The speaker resorts to the euphemism to make the impact of passing away by Allie softer. 

On the other hand, the line containing ‘I will simply miss her’ tells the story of the speaker’s attempt to omit Allie’s death’s sadness. He subconsciously might do that for the sake of drawing attention to the way how death is viewed and handled in the community, although he cannot see what effect it might have on them. 

Ultimately, euphemism does the part of developing the spiritual gap between the speaker and the thing happened. It provides us the means to more readily analyze the mental state of this speaker.

See also: Euphemism in Pride and Prejudice


“The Handmaid Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Euphemisms are used to describe the oppressive roles and practices in the dystopian society:

“There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimpy, that mark the women of the poorer men. Econowives, they’re called. These women are not divided into functions. They have to do everything; if they can”.

Within the passage the Econowives acts as a pawn of the rural stereotype. She happily tells about the chores that some of the girls had to do. 

The aforesaid term is also very subtle and indirect but is used to point to the women who have to split several tasks since they are poor. It is presented that euphemisms are meant for masking the brutal character of some man’s societal roles or circumstances.

Metonymy Vs Euphemism
Metonymy Vs Euphemism

In conclusion, metonymy and euphemism share the same concept of substitution but it is the aim that deviates. The metaphor changes one word for the similar concept and the euphemism uses softer or retired words to avoid harsh or sensitive sounds. Learning the intricacies of these objects therefore expands the world of literature and makes the process of communicating in daily life smoother.

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