Euphemization Of Political Discourse With Elected And Derived Political Power


The work focuses on the euphemization of the discourse of policymakers with elected and derived power. Euphemization is considered as an integrated phenomenon with regard to ethics, aesthetics and political correctness. The main focus of the study is to establish the social spheres covered by euphemization, the analyze the functions of euphemisms, to set the spectrum of linguistic-cognitive means of euphemization of discourse. One of the main tasks is to confirm or refute the widespread claim that political discourse is absolutely euphemistic. The study is based on 180 messages of the current Prime Minister Theresa May (2016–2019) and 180 messages of the Queen Elizabeth II (2004–2019). The main methods of study include content analysis, intent analysis, semantic-stylistic method of analysis of political texts. The objectives of euphemization of the current prime minister’s discourse include: to conceal true intentions in the foreign policy arena; to harmonize relations between citizens of the country; to camouflage the economy substance. The main objectives of the Queen’s euphemization include: to conceal information related to war secrets; to hide foreign policy intentions and legislative changes; to escape confrontation; to harmonize relations between citizens; to create an advantageous scale of assessments; to camouflage the merits of the case in certain socially important spheres; to avoid cultural taboo topics. The dominating means of euphemization used by Theresa May include words with semantic uncertainty, comparisons, metaphors, words with general meaning. The Queen’s addresses are dominated by words with common meaning, comparisons, metaphorization, non-figurative parephrases.

Keywords: Euphemismpolitical correctnesspolitical discoursetaboomanipulation


Euphemia is a non-uniform linguistic phenomenon that plays a key role in the lexical system of any language. It is hardly possible to reduce the concept of euphemism only to a trope, which task is to implicitly express a negative assessment. Euphemism is an element of the linguistic structure that has a significant influence on it during historical development, since euphemization is a continuous process of replacing some names with others caused by the constant re-evaluation of surrounding objects and phenomena.

In linguistics, there are several approaches to the classification of the functional potential of euphemisms. Some researchers highlight the function of softening something rude, causing fear or unpleasant feelings for a speaker; the function of concealing the reality when describing unpleasant social aspects of life, the assessment of which may damage the prestige of the state or the ruling body; concealing the reality in attempt to communicate something to the addressee so that the third parties could not decode this information ( Arsentieva & Arsentieva, 2017; Baskova, 2006; Bauman & Briggs, 2003; Dolzhenko & Prozorova, 2016; Fairclough, 1989; Glazacheva, 2016; Guy, 1988; Kiprskaya, 2005; Krysin, 1994; Novoselova, 2015; Perfilieva & Nikishina, 2013; Schultz, 1975; Sharova, 1996; Smith, 1985; Sokolova, 2004; Staruk, 2015; Trudgill, 1975; Tsaraeva & Reunova, 2001; Ulman, 1970; Vasilyev, 2010; Yafarova, 2015). Other researchers identify functions in euphemisms that avoid the violations of taboos, make it possible to observe the etiquette, to manipulate the consciousness of the addressee, to exercise ideological control, to influence the mass addressee, to code any activity (for example, within marginal sociolects), to veil the true state of affairs and to present them from a more beneficial perspective. Euphemisms are characterized by the function of politically correct speech behavior, the function of expressiveness is understood as a property of a certain set of linguistic units, which allows expressing the subjective attitude of a speaker to the content or the addressee of speech (Orlova, 2011, 2014). In addition to generally recognized functions, euphemisms demonstrate the function of designating socially unfriendly professions or spheres of activity, etc. ( Zafirova 2017), a function of satirical means ( Gurova, 2017).

As a result, it is possible to reduce the main functions of euphemisms to the following list, which may be added depending on positions from which euphemia is considered: softening, replacement, political correctness, ethics, evaluation, aesthetics, manipulation, avoidance of evaluation.

If scientific research focuses on the aesthetic aspect of communication, the starting point of such work can be the following postulate: euphemization is a way to avoid vulgar or offensive names in speech, thus making it a component of speech culture ( Vasilyev, 2010). In this case, euphemisms will be understood as mitigating names allowing replacing the original designation with words or phrases that the recipient will not be able to interpret as obscene or offensive ( Aitasova, 2011; Glazacheva, 2016). Consequently, the main function of euphemism will be to soften speech, which within a given linguoculture or functional style could be perceived as crude or vulgar. From this perspective, euphemism is interpreted as a means by which the communicants can publicly discuss traditionally tabulated phenomena without failure in communication ( Chaika, 1994; Saakyan & Severskaya, 2015; Tsaraeva & Reunova, 2001; Vendryes, 2010).

If we approach the phenomenon of euphemization from the point of view of moral and ethical tabulation, euphemisms can be interpreted as means of publicly discussed phenomena related to the sexual sphere, peculiarities of physiology, certain functions of the body, the topic of death, various diseases ( Muhamedianova, 2002).

It is worth noting that if euphemisms are considered from the point of view of political correctness, as a rule, emphasis is focused on the issues of power and subordination ( Cameron, 1992; Muhamedianova, 2002; Schultz, 1975; Sheina 1999; Smith, 1985; Sokolova, 2004; Sternin & Sternin, 2001; Trudgill, 1975), on conscious selection of language means, which use is consistent with the ideology of communicators ( Bauman & Briggs, 2003; Bryson, 1994; Diamond, 1996; Fairclough, 1989; Fowler, 1985; Guy, 1988; Kress, 1979; Loury, 1995). From this perspective, euphemisms nominate the system of values and beliefs typical for political, religious and social movements (movements for human rights / ethnic minorities / women / animals, etc.) ( Sharova, 1996; Kosmin & Lachman, 1993). Within the framework of this approach, euphemisms can be considered as means of manipulation and interpret euphemization as a meaningful and effective speech strategy with a pronounced manipulative effect ( Ivanova & Korchevskaya, 2011). In this work, manipulation refers to a purposeful but generally hidden effect on the perception of an addressee aimed at changing his behavior.

It seems that euphemization processes shall be considered from a holistic perspective as a process of using a name acceptable from social, cultural and political point of view, i.e. by combining all approaches. Hence, euphemism shall be interpreted as a lexical unit or expression used to replace a name perceived by an addressee of the communication as inappropriate for social, cultural, religious or political reasons.

Problem Statement

For quite a long time the euphemization of a political discourse is in the center of research interest of scientists from different countries and is mainly considered separately from a position of ethics or esthetics, religion or political correctness ( Arsentieva & Arsentieva, 2017; Bauman & Briggs, 2003; Dolzhenko & Prozorova, 2016; Fairclough, 1989; Glazacheva, 2016; Guy 1988; Sharova, 1996; Sokolova, 2004; Tsaraeva & Reunova, 2001; Vasilyev 2010). The analysis of research papers showed that the most studied topic these days is the euphemization of political events in media discourse ( Baskova, 2006; Kiprskaya, 2005; Novoselova, 2015; Perfilieva & Nikishina, 2013; Svitsova et al., 2015; Staruk, 2015; Yafarova, 2015), euphemization of pre-election discourse ( Korobeynikova, 2010; Smirnova, 2010). Euphemization of the professional discourse of policymakers is not well studied ( Eisfeld, 2016; Mironova, 2012; Pechak 2014). The main focus of the study covers the methods of linguistic-cognitive representation of euphemisms, their functional features in political discourse, different reasons of their typology. The statement that political discourse is unconditionally euphemistic is not questioned. It is believed that all policymakers actively resort to euphemization of discourse. Besides, the study of the specifics of euphemization of discourse of different policymakers of one country, social spheres of euphemization caused by “addressee-addressee” relations of political discourse participants still remains beyond the research interest. All of the above indicates the relevance and novelty of studying the specifics of euphemization in relation to the discourse of an elected policymaker and a policymaker with derived political power of one country. Such presentation of the question allows shifting the emphasis and expanding the field of study of euphemization of political discourse from the perspective of linguopersonology and communication theory within “addressee-addressee” relations. It is believed that a political discourse is characterized by high degree of euphemization ( Klikushina, 2017; Pastukhova, 2016; Svitsova et al., 2015; Tsybulak, 2013), however, the dependence of specificity of euphemization of discourse of different policymakers of one country still remains not studied.

Research Questions

In order to achieve the main objective of the study, the study seeks to cover the following tasks: to establish social spheres covered euphemistically in the discourse by policymakers with elected and derived political powers; to compare the functions of euphemisms in the professional discourse of a policymaker with elected power and a policymaker with derived power; to establish and compare the spectrum of linguo-cognitive means of euphemizing the discourse of different policymakers; to compare the intensity of euphemization of political discourse within the “addressee-addressee” relations.

Purpose of the Study

One of the main tasks is to confirm or refute the widespread claim that political discourse is absolutely euphemistic. The following nature of political power: derived or elected power and “addressee-addressee” relations was chosen as aspects of differentiation of euphemization of professional discourse of policymakers.

Research Methods

The material of the study included the statements by the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May and the ruling Queen Elizabeth II. The general sampling included 180 messages of the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May starting June 2016 since her election as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom until January 2019. The general sampling of euphemization of a discourse of a policymaker with derived power included 180 speeches of Elizabeth II from 2004 to 2019 without restriction on the subject and the addressee.

The main methods of study included the content analysis, intent analysis and semantic-stylistic method of analyzing political texts. Via the content analysis the euphemisms were identified and classified according to the social sphere in which they were used in speech. The analysis matrix made by Krysin ( 1994), who identified seven spheres of social life where the euphemisms are traditionally used: sphere of diplomatic relations; repressive actions of power structures; state and military secrets (arms production, social and numerical strength of institutions, their work profile, etc.); everything concerning the army, intelligence, criminal investigation, etc.; distribution trade and services sector; interaction between national and social groups; certain professions to increase prestige or conceal negative connotations causing their direct name ( Krysin, 1994).

The intent analysis aligned the functions of euphemisms to the functional potential of euphemisms described by Krysin ( 1994): strive to avoid communicative discomfort, communicative failures or direct conflicts; camouflage of the essence of the matter; attempt to transmit information to the addressee in encoded form in order to prevent its decoding by the third parties.

The study came up with a classification that allows determining linguistic-cognitive methods and means of euphemization. It included words with semantic uncertainty, nomination of certain objects and phenomena using euphemization words with the most general sense, foreign words and borrowed terminology, abbreviations, words semantically connected with incompleteness of action or weak degree of property, metaphorization, metonimization, non-figurative periphrasis, comparison, allusion, phraseological units, polarization of meaning, negative prefixion, reduplication, sound analogy.


The obtained quantitative data showed that a policymaker with derived power resorts to euphemization more often than a policymaker with elected power. On average, there are 7.5 euphemisms per page of political texts belonging to Elizabeth II, while the same texts by Theresa May have only 3.8 euphemisms per page.

It was established that an elected policymaker actively uses euphemization only when discussing topical topics of the present and the near future, while the topics of a policymaker with derived power is much wider, as shown in Table 1 .

Table 1 -
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Accordingly, the discourse of elected policymaker euphemistically covers predominantly three politically significant topics. In a discourse of a political figure with derived power euphemisms are used in the discussion of thirteen topics, which, besides politically important subjects, bear personal value for certain addressees.

In our view, the data obtained seem quite expected. The discourse of Theresa May, a policymaker with elected political power, euphemistically and correctly discusses only topical issues of the United Kingdom under her responsibility. The state of the country’s economy, issues of foreign policy and the hierarchy of citizens of different social groups are directly dependent on actions taken under the leadership of the Prime Minister of the country and can be adjusted within a short time frame. In order to resolve problematic situations in these areas of the British society, the Prime Minister makes certain decisions, which the society and the world may perceive ambiguously. hence, the policymaker needs euphemization as a means of avoiding criticism, veiling information about the real state of affairs in the economy and politics, avoiding open confrontation, implicitly expressing negative assessment, hiding true intentions in the foreign policy arena, promoting harmonization of relations between citizens of different nationalities, social and health status.

The discourse of the Queen Elizabeth II, a policymaker with derived power, records more social, religious, cultural-historical, political topics, which are discussed euphemistically to ensure that the messages are not perceived by the addressee as unacceptable, inappropriate or offensive for social, cultural, religious or political reasons. This is caused by wider, closer and longer integration of policymakers of this rank into the life of citizens in all socially important spheres. Moreover, in the case of the United Kingdom, such extensive euphemization of the Queen’s discourse may be caused by the fact that, first, the origins of some social problems go back to the past, and may be perceived by UK nationals as the actions of the members of the ruling royal family. Secondly, the United Kingdom is now a parliamentary monarchy and, accordingly, the monarch has no absolute power in decision-making in socially important spheres. The Queen reigns, but does not rule, while still being perceived as a subject of supreme political power.

Table 2 presents the objectives, which the analyzed policymakers use through euphemization in their statements.

Table 2 -
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Table 3 provides quantitative results regarding euphemization tools used by these political figures.

Table 3 -
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The above information shows that the target potential of euphemizing the discourse of the elected policymaker is more limited than the target potential of euphemizing the discourse of a policymaker with the derived power. Besides, the quantitative data obtained showed that Theresa May uses euphemization less often when addressing internal addressees compared to the same situation with external addressees – policymakers of other countries.

This fact can be explained by a number of communicative intentions of the re-elected policymaker, which are realized in her appeals to potential voters. This includes an attempt to increase the credibility of their actions, to get the electorate to approve the ongoing changes in various areas, to explain the reasons for difficulties and to introduce the tasks to be solved in order to avoid their repetitive appearance. All these intentions can be realized only in the conditions of the most correct discussion of social, political and economic situation.

The most frequent means of euphemization in the discourse of Theresa Mays include the following: 1) words with semantic uncertainty; 2) comparison; 3) metaphorization; 4) nomination of specific subjects and concepts with words having general meaning.

The dominant means of euphemization in the discourse of Elizabeth II have are somewhat different. The analysis of linguo-cognitive methods and means of euphemization in the discourse of Elizabeth II revealed the following dominant means: 1) generalization, 2) comparison, 3) metaphorization and 4) non-figurative periphrases.

Hence, the spectrum of dominant means of euphemizing the discourse of difference policymakers has some differences and similarities.

Let us consider a few examples of dominant euphemization means. Thus, Theresa May uses euphemization with the help of words with semantic uncertainty and the nomination of specific concepts with words having general meaning when she speaks of unprivileged citizens of the United Kingdom, legal immigrants of the United Kingdom: That starts with the rights of all those from the EU who have moved here, contributed to our country, and built their lives in the UK ( Grimsby, 2019). We need an economy that works for everyone, a country where everyone can be proud of their community and every community offers people the opportunity to get on in life (ibid.). In discussing the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and opponents of the decision, Theresa May also uses phrases that include words with uncertain semantics: different voices and views, some points of difference, everyone from both sides of the debate and phrases with words having more general meaning: our withdrawal from the EU, departure from the EU, departure from the European Union .

Using metaphors and comparisons to euphemize her remarks, Theresa May often turns to theatrical topics. For example, Successive UK and Irish Governments have played their parts, often working together in close co-operation ( Belfast, 2019); And neither will the values that guide our actions as a responsible actor on the world stage ( Grimsby, 2019). The theatrical topics in the Prime Minister’s discourse appear to be culturally driven and related to rich theatrical traditions of the country, where so many talented playwriters were born.

Theresa May often resorts to construction topics, as do other policymakers when implementing unpopular reforms or when taking measures that are perceived ambiguously among the representatives of different social groups. This allows policymakers creating a beneficial scale of assessments of their actions, escaping responsibility and shaping the perception and interpretation of their actions as exclusively creative. We can then create an immigration system built around people’s skills, not the country they come from ( Grimsby, 2019); We also want to find creative ways of enhancing the links between all our peoples – and in particular, to build the links between our young people ; During that time I expect us to hammer out the full and final details of the framework that will underpin our future relationship ( CBI, 2018).

Most often for euphemistic description Elizabeth II resorts to generalization. Queen Elizabeth II resorts to euphemization by means of words with a general meaning when she talks about such taboo topic as the natural death, death as a result of military conflicts or terrorist attacks. For example, At Christmas we become keenly aware of loved ones who have died whatever the circumstances ( Queen Elizabeth II, 2016).

It shall be noted that not only the phenomenon itself is euphemized, but also the killed soldiers and their grieving relatives.

From giving friendship and support to our veterans, the elderly or the bereaved; to championing music and dance; providing animal welfare; or protecting our fields and forests, their selfless devotion and generosity of spirit is an example to us all ( Queen Elizabeth II, 2016).

Speaking of terrorist attacks, Queen Elizabeth II also uses euphemization with words having a general meaning. Thus, instead of the verbs killed and wounded , the Queen often uses the verb affected :

My thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathy are with all those who have been affected by yesterday's awful violence ( UK Queen, 2017a).

With words having a general meaning, UK participation in various NATO missions in other countries is tabulated:

I am sure that we have all been affected by events in Afghanistan and saddened by the casualties suffered by our forces serving there ( Queen Elizabeth II, 2009); For many, this Christmas will not be easy. With our armed forces deployed around the world, thousands of service families face Christmas without their loved ones at home ( Queen Elizabeth II, 2011).

Words with a general meaning also appear when it comes to various kinds of changes in the legislation: My government will bring forward measures to modernise the pension system and reform the state pension, creating a fair, simple and sustainable foundation for private saving ; Legislation will be introduced to reform public service pensions in line with the recommendations of the independent commission on public service pensions .

The comparison is used by the Queen to euphemize the discourse to describe a wide range of socio-economic, political and cultural-religious aspects of the lives of her nationals and the citizens of other countries. For example, when the discourse refers to the need for any changes. The use of comparative adjectives in this context makes a recipient to conclude that at the moment the quality described by an adjective is not sufficiently typical for the object or phenomenon, i.e. it suggests that the implied actions of the change in law are necessary. For example, The tax and benefits system will be made fairer and simpler .

Elizabeth II resorts to euphemization through comparison when justifying the country’s involvement in military conflicts of other countries. For example, My government will work to support a secure and stable Afghanistan, to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, including in Iran, and to bring greater stability to the Horn of Africa .

Metaphors also serve a productive means of euphemizing the discourse of Elizabeth II. One of the most productive sphere-sources of metaphorical expansion of the Queen Elizabeth II is flora. Phytomorphic metaphors use lexemes: fruition, grow, root, flourish . Presumably, the use of phytomorphic metaphors allows the Queen describing ambiguously perceived socio-economic, political and cultural-religious events and phenomena as natural:

The Royal Air Force has won a place in the heart of our Nation, and I wish All Ranks, past and present, together with your families, every good fortune for your second century of service. Today, these values remain deeply rooted in the Canadian experience ( UK Queen, 2017b).

The second most productive sphere-source of metaphorical expansion of the Queen Elizabeth II is construction. The construction metaphor is often used by the Queen to describe international relations. Quite often, Elizabeth II resorts to metaphorization by appealing to policymakers and citizens of the British Commonwealth, an association of sovereign states that, in addition to Great Britain, includes many of its former colonies, dominions and protectorates. In this context, the construction metaphor calls on the recipient to perceive and interpret the information in a positive way, from the perspective of cooperation and mutual benefit.

Canadians will continue to build a better country and a better world...  CanadiansI congratulate all of you for the part you have played in building this community and creating so many opportunities for the next generation ( UK Queen, 2017b).

It shall be noted that the construction metaphor is also used when addressing the nationals of their country. It is believed that it helps Elizabeth II to support the image of the monarch-creator:

Your ability to provide a flexible and adaptable force, quickly and without fuss, for the purposes of warfighting, peace building or disaster relief is world-class ( UK Queen, 2016).

The metaphor of kinship is often used by Elizabeth II. The metaphor of commonwealth as a family occurs when euphemization is subjected to British patronage of countries – former colonies: It is important to keep discussing issues that concern us all – there can be no more valuable role for our family of nations ( Queen Elizabeth II, 2009).

Non-figurative periphrases close the most productive means used by Elizabeth II. These means of euphemization helps the monarch to avoid demonstrating the assessment of certain events, phenomena or neutralizing the negative connotations assigned to the means of nomination of some social groups:

Your Holiness, your presence here today reminds us of our common Christian heritage. And of the Christian contribution to the encouragement of world peace, and to the economic and social development of the less prosperous countries of the world ( UK Queen, 2010).

Especially often Elizabeth II resorts to non-figurative periphrases when she talks to immigrants from different countries. This nomination allows the monarch to disassociate herself from negative assessments:

We can celebrate not just the Irish men and women who helped to build Britain but also the Irish architects who helped to design it, including that great architect of parliamentary reform, Daniel O’Connell, whose life and work you will have remembered this afternoon on your visit to Parliament ( UK Queen, 2014);

Your visit to this country allows us to celebrate the breadth and strength of that partnership. We warmly welcome the many thousands of Kuwaitis who visit the United Kingdom every year and the many – Your Highness included – who have chosen to make second homes here ( UK Queen, 2012).


The study allowed refuing the almost dogma claim that the political discourse was unconditionally euphemistic. The analysis of the professional discourse of policymakers with derived and elected power confirmed the hypothesis that the euphemization of the professional discourse of policymakers depends on the specificity of the “addressee-addressee” relations between the policymaker and the addressee.

The work showed that there is a dependence of the degree and scale of euphemization of the professional discourse of political figures on the kind of political power (derived or elected). Euphemisms can ensure both harmonization of relations between citizens of the country, between citizens and the ruling group, between ruling circles of different countries, and the aggravation of conflicts if the purpose of euphemization of a political discourse is to veil the discredit of political opponents, to conceal social, political or economic problems, to withdraw from responsibility. In other words, if euphemisms are used to withdraw from responsibility, to conceal certain political and socially significant information, to veil the discredit of political opponents, to create a favorable scale of assessments ( Eichbaum & Nefedov, 1995) of their actions, such euphemisms begin to play an unparalleled negative role in a political discourse. Low degree of euphemization of political discourse allows elected policymakers discussing pressing issues quite openly with the citizens of the country in order to maintain confidence in their actions, obtain approval of the ongoing changes, explain the reasons, difficulties encountered and familiarize themselves with the tasks to be solved. On the one hand, high euphemization of a discourse of policymakers with derived power allows defusing conflicts between all sectors of the society. From this perspective, the choice of a word addressed to people by political leaders is significant ( Verbitskaya, 2015). On the other hand, euphemisms provide an opportunity to hide social, political or economic problems and withdraw from responsibility. Dominant linguo-cognitive means of euphemization of a political figure with elected power and a political figure with derived power vary only slightly. The main difference is observed in social spheres, the public discussion of which takes place euphemistically.

Besides, the work provides quantitative data confirming that the euphemization of a policy maker discourse depends on whether the addressee is internal or external. A policymaker with elected power uses euphemization less frequently when referring to an internal addressee than when referring to an external addressee – policymakers of other countries or citizens of other countries. A policymaker with derived power, on the contrary, more often uses the means of ephemization when referring to an internal addressee and less often to an external addressee.

The prospect of the study is to establish in detail the functional potential of euphemisms in the discourse of elected policymakers and policymakers with derived power, addressed to an external addressee: foreign colleagues, citizens of countries having a conflict of interest with Great Britain in the modern conditions of globalization.


The study was carried out with the financial support of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research within the framework of scientific project No. 19-012-00522 The problem of legitimization in political discourse: linguo-personological aspect .


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31 October 2020

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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, semantics, discourse analysis, translation, interpretation

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Kameneva, V. A., & Rabkina, N. V. (2020). Euphemization Of Political Discourse With Elected And Derived Political Power. In D. K. Bataev (Ed.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism» Dedicated to the 80th Anniversary of Turkayev Hassan Vakhitovich, vol 92. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1950-1962). European Publisher.