The word “euphemism” comes from the Greek roots eu, or “well,” and phḗmē, or “speak.” A euphemism was originally meant to convey the art of speaking auspiciously in order to abstain from inauspicious words. In a way, “inauspicious words” is almost a euphemism of its own for “taboo topics,” which is more or less what euphemisms are designed to soften in contemporary culture. And because what’s taboo is often hilarious (and sometimes in a gallows humor kind of way), we’re left with a massive global stockpile of euphemisms that hint at things like sex, death and unmentionable bodily functions.
Here are five of our favorite euphemisms from around the world.
La Petite Mort — “The Little Death”
Perhaps you’ve already heard of this famous little ditty. The French refer to orgasms as a “little death,” perhaps alluding to the mental oblivion one experiences during climax. Some have also said that this is a reference to the idea that orgasms bring us closer to death (interesting perspective but okay). Aristotle also thought that orgasms rendered women infertile, laying the groundwork for a long tradition of men understanding little to nothing about the female reproductive system.
見馬克思 (Jiàn Mǎkèsī) — “To Go See Marx”
This is a euphemism some people in China use to talk about death, but with a wry dose of communist humor.
Už Budu — “I Will Be”
Guess again, because this isn’t a shaky translation of Hamlet. It’s actually another highly philosophical euphemism for orgasms in Czech. Surprise! This one is thought to refer to the notion that the orgasm is a manner of being in existence, as well as an embrace of continued existence (so, quite the opposite of how the French conceive it). You know: “I think, therefore, I am.”
Kopnąć W Kalendarz — Kick The Calendar
This Polish euphemism is sort of similar to the English “kick the bucket,” but it’s dealing with different (and slightly less gruesome) imagery. The calendar refers to the time of one’s death, evoking a slightly more abstract image of someone giving a final kick (or putting their final stamp on time immemorial).
The ____ Have Landed
There’s a whole host of euphemisms in various languages that use the analogy of an invading enemy camp to wink at menstrual periods. You can basically use it anywhere, as long as you swap in the appropriate nationality according to the local history. If you’re in France, Belgium or Canada, you would say that “the English have landed.” In Australia, Canada, Germany and Finland, Japan would be attacking. The Russians arrive once a month in Belgium, Denmark, Greece and Romania, and in some places, the communists visit the funhouse on a regular basis.