In the beginning there was the word"¦ you just couldn't say it. That's right, euphemisms can be traced all the way back to the Bible, to the Ten Commandments, to be more exact, where the Hebrews were specifically instructed not to take their Lord's name in vain.
The Greeks, too, were forbidden to say the name of some of their gods and goddess, though generally the ones who ruled the darker world, like Hecate, goddess of sorcery and witchcraft, who later went on to become Trivia to the Romans. (How's that for some trivia for you?)
But the Jews took the idea of leaving out the Lord's name a step further and not only developed euphemisms like Ha'shem (literally "the name") and YHVH or Yahweh, adding in the missing vowels, but started writing the word "god" like this: G-d. Likewise, many people think Christians started saying "Gee whiz" in place of the name Jesus.
A euphemism, or "good speech" in Greek, is the opposite of blaspheme, or "not so good speech," and is generally used these days to talk around uncomfortable subjects, otherwise known as circumlocution.
Whether we're talking war-related deaths, sorry, "casualties," or toxic pollution, er, "runoff," variations on euphemisms, like doublespeak and wordplay, often save people a lot of embarrassment. Mental hospitals are "Acorn Academies," an unwanted child is "an accident," and menstruation is sometimes referred to as a "visit from Aunt Flo."
Shakespeare was a big fan of them, especially when it came to talking about the biggest taboo of all, copulation. One of my favorites is "to line" and comes from the play As You Like It (hilarious title, given the subject at hand!):
Winter garments must be lined, So must slender Rosaline.
Then there are all those modern-day *wink* *wink*ers for sex, like "hide the salami," or "throw the leg." And a pantload for what we do in the bathroom, like "dropping the kids off at the pool."
As always, we'd love to hear your personal favs on politics, death, and sure, why not, sex.