The original word for ‘bear’ has been lost. People in middle ages were superstitious and thought saying the animal’s name would summon it. They called it ‘bear’ which means ‘the brown one’ to avoid saying its actual name.

Hooking Up and Using the John: Why Do We Use So Many Euphemisms?

Author Ralph Keyes is intrigued by how we say certain things without quite saying them. In Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms, he explores subjects that have inspired creative phrasing, from sex and money to food and death. Whether it’s because we are afraid to blaspheme, want to be polite or (like Shakespeare and Mae West) just like to have fun with language, there’s no shortage of motives for employing euphemisms. Keyes spoke with TIME about how disease became a mainstream word, what processing meat means, and why it is that we go to the john.

Is it possible to speak without using euphemisms?

I would hate to try. Who would have me to dinner if I just let it all fly, linguistically speaking? It would be very, very difficul… Continue Reading