A company of soldiers, of which our protagonist, Don, is a member, has set up a temporary camp from which they will launch some raids on some enemy positions. Of Don, we read that

The company headquarters runner sought him out and awakened him—by standing well clear and giving the hammock rope a sharp tap. Don came instantly awake, a knife in his hand. "Easy!", cautioned the runner. "The Old Man wants to see you."

Don made a rhetorical and most ungracious suggestion as to what the captain could do about it and slid silently to his feet.

The author intended this to be read by young people whom he did not want to encourage to use coarse language, but he must have intended it to be understood that such language was used on this occasion.

Is there a name for that?

3 Answers 3


In general, this is known as an allusion:

An expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference.

In your text, the author was alluding to the language used, rather than specifically mentioning it.

  • I think I've taken "allusion" to mean a passing non-explicit mention of a particular other text, when that would be understood only if that other text were known to the reader. Mar 3, 2018 at 22:52
  • Here is a reason why I at least hesitate over this answer. At a certain conservative religious school, the pupils and faculty members are forbidden not only to use "crude" language, but also to use allusions to crude language for rhetorical effect. I imagine someone said "RTFM" and that was an allusion that inspired the promulgation of that rule. Do you think the passage from a novel that I quoted could violate such a rule? Mar 5, 2018 at 18:26
  • . . . . . i.e. I expect an allusion to something to be an allusion to a particular instance of particular words being said. Mar 5, 2018 at 21:27

The normal term is euphemism defined by the Oxford Online dictionary as

A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

Euphemisms are more usually a single word or pair of words directly replacing the offensive one 'darn' for 'damn', 'sugar' for 'shit' for example but the euphemistic reported speech you quote fits the definition given above.

Someone else may well know a more specific word for this type of euphemism and, if they do I would be interested to see it.

  • Neither the OP nor the words you cite are examples of euphemism. What you seem to mistake for euphemisms are in fact minced oaths.
    – Tushar Raj
    Mar 2, 2018 at 11:43
  • @TusharRaj I must admit I'd never heard of a minced oaths so I looked them up. The OOD says that they are 'clipped or euphemistically altered oaths' and The Phrase Finder says that 'Minced oaths are a sub-group of euphemisms'. Similar definitions are used by other sources. I don't believe that I'm incorrect, merely a little unspecific.
    – BoldBen
    Mar 2, 2018 at 13:29
  • Not knocking your cited definition, but to me euphemisms are actual words close in meaning to the intended word; while minced oaths are mostly made-up words (occasionaly real words) close in sound to the intended word with no relation in meaning whatsoever.
    – Tushar Raj
    Mar 2, 2018 at 14:06
  • But this passage doesn't actually say that something bad is not bad; it's says it's "most ungracious". Mar 3, 2018 at 22:41
  • I was talking about the examples cited in this answer. The OP merely refers to a bad word. It never actually substitutes it. So whatever it is, it's not a euphemism OR a minced oath.
    – Tushar Raj
    Mar 4, 2018 at 14:39

The term is "to Bowdlerize" (Pronunciation: /ˈbaʊdlərʌɪz/). Note the uppercase "B"


Etymology: the name of Dr. T. Bowdler, who in 1818 published an edition of Shakespeare, ‘in which those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family’.

verb: transitive. To expurgate (a book or writing), by omitting or modifying words or passages considered indelicate or offensive; to castrate.

1883 Church Times 703/4 It [Henry IV] is Bowdlerized, to be sure, but that is no evil for school purposes.

  • 1
    But this was the original author of the work avoiding vulgar language while explicitly saying it happened. That's not the same as altering work published earlier that contained vulgar language. And does a bowdlerized version of a work normally say explicitly that at a certain point a character used language that will not be explicitly quoted? Mar 3, 2020 at 15:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.