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"The basic position regarding the practical execution to the Jewish question has been established and agreed upon by all agencies involved."
Reinhard Heydrich, Head of Reich Security Main Office and Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, February 29 1942

When death or impending death is referred to only in code words, which becomes chilling when the audience realizes what they are referring to. Usually used by sinister conspiracies, powerful gangsters, Dystopian bureaucrats (see also Double-Speak), Paths Of Inspiration or Scary Dogmatic Aliens.

In some cases, the words 'destroyed' or 'erased' may be used, not as a euphemism, but rather because the word 'killed' is insufficient. Usually refers to those who have suffered a Fate Worse Than Death, or an individual who has been killed and wiped from all records.

This is similar to Never Say "Die", but isn't associated with censorship; violent deaths will be shown, or someone will explain the real meaning of the euphemism. It's also the supertrope of Trouble Entendre and Released to Elsewhere.

The opposite of this would be No Longer with Us.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Deadly Euphemism include:


Anime and Manga

  • For such a Magnificent Bastard, you'd think Fushigi Yuugi's Nakago would say "You will die" to his last enemy. But no, he tells Miaka, "Neither of you will exist in either world." (Never you mind who the other person referred to is.)
  • "Demoned Away" (onikakushi, with oni replacing the kami in kamikakushi; "spirited away") is a euphemism for killed, or sent away, in Satoshi's case, in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.
    • You sure won't want to "transfer out".
      • There are other variations that the characters used too, usually not in the anime though.
  • Kasumi, Ange's evil aunt and eventual guardian in "Umineko no Naku Koro ni" says that she and her body guards will have tea with Ange. Later on, we find out that she really means that she will beat her to death.
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei: Kafuka, being the unrealistically optimistic schoolgirl that she is, refers to suicide by hanging as "making oneself taller."
  • Saint Young Men has "Going home". Played for laughs, considering that the main characters are Buddha and Jesus.
  • In Tekken: The Motion Picture, Kazuya says Nina to tell Heihachi to clean his neck while he's waiting for him (meaning Heihachi should prepare to get killed)


Card Games

  • In the Ninja Burger card game, a ninja who has lost all his Honor "apologizes to his ancestors -- in person".
  • The Phyrexians do not horribly mutilate people beyond all recognition, give them cybernetic enhancements, and reshape their bodies. They compleat them. And no, that's not a typo.


Film

  • Used repeatedly in Brazil. "Information retrieval" is jargon for "interrogation by electric torture" (which the interrogated party is charged for, no less). When somebody dies, each bureau uses a different euphemism, such as "deleted", "inoperative", "excised" or "completed".
  • Replicants in Blade Runner are "retired".
  • Idiocracy uses Rehabilitation as the name of a demolition derby show - and as a euphemism for execution in said show, no less.
  • Used comically in the Bill Murray film The Man Who Knew Too Little, where the titular Man thinks he's acting in a play when he tells the assassin's bosses that a woman had "Gone #1" and subsequently "Flushed".
  • In Tron, the death of a program is called "deresolution", and programs who are killed are said to have been "derezzed". However, this is almost certainly due to the nature of existence in the Digital World rather than censorship.
  • Played with in The 51st State: A small-time gangster asks his henchman to "take care" of someone. Later on, the gangster finds that person's dead body. "I told you to take care of him, not to take care of him!"
  • Dirty Cop movies and TV shows will inevitably reference the arrestee "resisting arrest" as a euphemism for having beat them (or requesting that they be beat) senseless. Unfortunately also very much Truth in Television.
  • In Return of the King, the attack on Minas Tirith starts with Gothmog giving the order to 'release the prisoners'. Cue severed Gondorian heads flying over the city walls.
  • In Logan's Run, Logan 5 (a Sandman) is explaining his job to Jessica 6:

 Jessica 6: That's what you do, isn't it? Kill?

Logan 5: I've never killed anyone! I terminate Runners.


Literature

  • In Stephen King's The Long Walk, in which an fatal endurance walk is the main plot, being shot is referred to as, "buying a ticket".
  • In Warhammer40000, the books about the Horus Heresy, Horus uses the word 'illuminate' to describe killing.
  • The Church Militant Whitecloaks in The Wheel of Time once refer to the wholesale slaughter of a village as being "pacified."
    • Similarly, a male channeler who has had his powers burned out of him (which usually results in his suicide within a few months) is referred to as "gentled," while a female would be "stilled."
    • The Age of Legends survivors prefer the term "severed".
  • The Guild of Assassins in the Discworld novels prefer the term "inhume". They also refer to the victim as "the client."
    • Which is odd, because the client should be paying for the assassination, not receiving it.
      • The Assassins are tend to be Wicked Cultured and/or Affably Evil - they consider themselves to be providing a service to the "client" by inhuming them in a stylish and dignified manner (and at great expense to the contractor). No gentleman want to be killed by being hit over the head with a club by a two-dollar thug, after all.
      • This is a common assassin trait - usually, the person paying for the assassination is called the "contractor".
  • The Giver uses the term "released," which is short for Released to Elsewhere. Subverted in that nobody knows it is a euphemism save the Giver (and later his successor, the Receiver) because nobody save him has any concept of death.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four. "Unperson" is the Newspeak term for a person who must be erased from history, making it look like they never existed at all ... usually because the person has been arrested and executed. The Ministry of Truth edits newspaper and broadcast archives to remove all mention of such a person.
    • And the OldSpeak (English) term for what happens is, the person is "vaporized" (he vanishes like vapor). At the time, probably a riff on the Soviet term, "liquidated". Alas, it sounds cheesy now, because in a Sci Fi context, the term "vaporized" is often used literally.
      • There's actually a point where "vaporized" is said to be a literal use: O'Brientells Winston that "we shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere."
    • Interestingly enough, French "se vaporiser", to this troper's knowledge, is still a common term for something vanishing.
  • In the Black Company novels, there's a part where Lady is running roughshod over a client city's entrenched priesthoods. A delegation is sent to her to demand that she free various prisoners; she tells her lieutenant something like "Tell them they've been released. They'll get the message."
  • In Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, Never Let Me Go, "completed" is the term used when the clones die.
    • And by "die", we mean "have had all their vital organs harvested for transplant into non-clone people".
  • The Star Trek novel Federation has part of its plot in the late 21st Century, when a genocidal political movement used the term "contained" -- "As in containing the spread of contagion."
  • In the Amtrak Wars series there are references to "pulling a trick", where trick is really TRIC - Terminal Radiation-Induced Cancer.
  • The School in the Maximum Ride series "retires" those creations which have outlived their usefulness. Max, being Max, lampshades the heck out of it.


Live Action TV

  • There was a Sliders episode where they land on a world where people can get free money for a chance to be killed. They use euphemisms and the main characters aren't aware why they're getting the money.
  • The Alternate Universe Cybermen from the new Doctor Who refer to killing as "deletion", and to assimilating humans into their ranks as "upgrading". Given how the rest of the show doesn't shy from discussions of mortality, this probably reflects on the net-speak nature of the Cybermen rather than any censorship.
    • This is supported by "The Next Doctor". The Cybermen are explicitly incapable of understanding certain human concepts. When a Human ally of theirs claims she will do her best she has to explain it as "operating at peak efficiency". It's probable that the Cybermen have no real concept of death(for whatever reason) and deletion is the closest analogue to it they can come up with.
    • The Daleks refer to "extermination" in much the same way. In the first Dalek story, though, you can quite clearly hear a Dalek say "Kill her" in one of the episodes.
    • Classic Doctor Who also gives us an example: The 7th Doctor serial Ghost Light describes death as "going to Java", with anyone who's said to be going to Java either dead or is going to be killed pretty soon.
  • Gloriously lampshaded in That Mitchell And Webb Look:

  Henchman: "have him removed"? "take him out of the picture"? I thought we agreed at the meeting that these terms were needlessly ambiguous. We all agreed that when we want someone murdered, i.e. deliberately killed to death, then that's what we were gonna say!"

  • Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger also uses "deletion" but in this case it refers to a specific form of Deader Than Dead. The extraterrestrial criminals are not only executed, but their remains are sterilised so that no clone can be made...unless they left genetic material elsewhere...
  • Bones has an episode in which Booth and Brennan are unsure of whether a murder actually occurred or not. To avoid letting any of the potential victim's family members know of their suspicions, they continually refer to him as having been "translated."
  • On The West Wing, President Bartlet has to have it explained to him why they're sending in a "CIA wet team" for an operation in a landlocked country.
  • On the short-lived series Kidnapped, the assassin used by the bad guys is referred to as The Accountant, and they routinely order him to "close the account" on a particular person.
  • Father Ted did the "take care of" variant, when Ted realised exactly how his psychotic friend was going to take care of a large quantity of rabbits.
  • Lampshaded by the Garak of the Mirror Universe in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. He tells Kira that tomorrow the Intendant (Kira's double from the Mirror Universe) will be "gone." "Gone?" asks Kira and Mirror-Garak repeats "gone" and then comments "Please don't make me use some foolish euphemism." A bit later, he tells Kira that he doesn't go along with her plan, then her doctor-friend (Julian Bashir) will instead be "gone."
  • La Femme Nikita: "Canceled". "Abeyance operatives". For such a cold and calculated organization Section 1 do like euphemisms, and they don't seem to even try to hide their meanings.
  • Likewise, in the remake Nikita, Division refers to killing their own agents/trainees/prisoners as "canceling" them.


Radio

  • Played with in the radio version of The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, where Hig Hurstenflurst explains his use of "revoked" to Arthur by spelling it out as "k-i-l-l-e-d."
    • This is part of a larger legal wrangle where (for various reasons) the representatives of a cloning agency were trying to get murder redefined in law. They'd managed to have the word legally changed, but not the spelling.
    • Earlier in the series, Slartibartfast threatens Arthur that he will be "late" as in "the late Dent Arthur Dent" unless Arthur comes with him.

 Slartibartfast: It's a sort of threat, you see. I've never been terribly good at them myself but I'm told they can be terribly effective.


Theater

  • In Urinetown, anyone who refuses to use the pay toilets, or otherwise causes trouble, is shipped off to the eponymous town.

 Bobby: So what's it like, this "Urinetown" that I've heard so much about?

Officer Barrel: Perhaps better for us to "show" you.

Bobby: Wait a minute, you're just going to throw me off this roof and that's supposed to be Urinetown?! Death is Urinetown?!

Officer Lockstock: That's one interpretation.

  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: "And I guarantee to give you, without a penny's charge, the closest shave you have ever known."
  • The Les Misérables musical frequently uses "sleeping" rather than "dead" (i.e. "Please stay 'till I am sleeping," from Fantine as she's dying) in the songs. Justified in that it's much more poetic than "dead." Also, most of the sinister feel is absent, as the meaning is immediately clear from context and there are plenty of times where they say "die" instead.


Video Games

  • The Overwatch dispatcher from Half Life 2 speaks almost entirely in these. "Sterilize" is her usual euphemism for "kill on sight". She seems to favour medical terms.
  • In Final Fantasy X, Tidus is kept in the dark about how Yuna was going to die at the end of the pilgrimage for the bulk of the game. Summoners who complete their pilgrimage (thus defeating Sin and dying a horrible senseless death) are known as High Summoners.
    • Though that's not the real euphemism. High Summoner is a title granted for defeating Sin, which is why it is given to Yuna when she permanently vanquishes Sin and lives. The real euphemism is that people are talking in code about it, like saying that a summoner's job is to bring peace to Spira (which it is, of course, but there's no way an outsider like Tidus would know that this involves them laying down their lives in the process).
    • In Final Fantasy IX, sentient black mages who die are said to have "stopped moving." When Vivi asks about this, the black mage elder says he is "kind to use our words," but that he already knows what it means to live and to die. Vivi later admits, though, "Mr. 288 told me that I understand what it means to live and to die... But it's only because I thought stopping was different from dying..."
    • Final Fantasy XIII has the "Purge," in which citizens who are supposedly contaminated by elements from Pulse are "deported" or "relocated" to there, being referred to as "brave Pulse pioneers." In actuality, the Purge is cover for the mass execution of any of these citizens who are unable to escape. As the character Lightning explains -- "Sanctum logic. They conjured up the Purge to eliminate a threat. I mean, why carry the danger all the way to Pulse? Why not just stamp it out here? Execution masquerading as exile. That's all the Purge ever was."
  • In a Shout-Out to Blade Runner, reploids in the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero games are "retired".
    • However, the word "kill" was used in Mega Man X Command Mission, such as when Nana refers to Silver Horn's threat of killing all the POWs if she refused to cooperate.
  • GLaDOS uses the term "euthanized", in reference to both test subjects and also to inanimate objects.
    • Or so the player assumes.
    • "Baked" was another one, although she's pretty straightforward about what the green stuff at the bottom of some test chambers will do to test subjects.
  • In Star Wars: Battlefront II, the Imperial player receives a reward for the 'pacifying' Kashyyyk. Apparently, the only good Wookiee is a passive Wookiee.
  • In The World Ends With You, no one dies; they get "erased." The Players are already dead; they're all playing for a second chance at life.
  • In World of Warcraft, Algalon the Observer talks about "re-origination" as the consequence of a world's failure to measure up to the standards of his masters, the Titans. "Re-origination" refers to the complete destruction of all life in a world followed immediately by the remaking of life in the world according to the Titans' original blueprints.
  • Protoss don't annihilate planets, they purify them.
  • Dwarf Fortress: Losing is fun!
  • In the Crusader games, the summary execution of a WEC official on the orders of a more senior official was termed 'Early Retirement'.
  • Whenever the Seven Deities go out "saving souls," they're slaughtering humans for their Mantra, when they undergo an "exorcism," they're taking out their own ships to destroy a threat on board, and when they attempt a "purification," they're straight up killing someone.


Webcomics

  • Lampshaded in Thunderstruck, where Stella Wincott correctly anticipates this trope: "I'm sure you have some other word for it. Some nice, sanitized euphemism for killing. Well, go ahead."
  • Played with in Sluggy Freelance, when Torg and Riff are hired by a sinister figure to arrange a "dirt nap" for somebody. They start by digging an out-of-the-way grave...at which point Sam shows up, to literally take a nap in dirt, as vampires do. The sinister figure owed Sam a favour for fitting his wife with cement shoes (they're a great workout for your calves!).
  • In the troll society in Homestuck, the less useful members of the populace - such as, say, the disabled - are in risk of "culling".
  • In Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, when Louisa Dem Five's friend Oort is killed, she holds a "New Hong Kong wake" ... during which she secretly poisons his murderer.

 Qvakk: "Sorry I ruined Oort's wake ..."

Louisa: "You didn't, dear. This is what a New Hong Kong wake is."


Web Original

  • The immortal elves in Tales of MU don't like to talk about dying. The pale-skinned surface "take leave" when ennui sets in. Their dark-skinned cousins "greet the goddess".
  • The SCP Foundation does not kill. It "terminates". Sometimes people get killed. Their style guide explains the difference.

Western Animation

  • Re Boot often used "erase" and "delete" in place of death. Since this show is inside a computer this is appropriate given what erasing and deleting do to actual code. There's really no attempt at hiding what those words actually mean in this show.
  • Subverted on an episode of The Mask, that parodied Planet of the Apes. Characters are told that they will be "terminated", and assume the natives are out to kill them, but as it turns out that just means they will be fired from the city-enveloping corporation (which they, being from another time, don't actually work for).
  • Parodied on The Simpsons:

 Fat Tony: The sit-down’s tonight? Again this Palm Pilot has failed to remind me! I believe this needs to be hot-synced. [Louie takes Palm Pilot and shoots it] What are you doing?!

Louie: I thought you meant ‘hot-sync’ it. You know how it is with us, everything means kill!

  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Shendu (as a spirit possessing Valmont's body) told that the reports on his "demise" had been exaggerated.

Real Life

  • "Special treatment" was one of the euphemisms used by the Nazis. Others include the special units (work units of death camps) and task forces (death squads).
    • The Nazis had a sort of hierarchy of euphemisms concerning the Holocaust: the phrase "resettlement in the East" was used for general public consumption. "Final Solution to the Jewish Question," for most government documents, "liquidation" for those pertaining directly to the Holocaust. "Annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe" was used only in the most closed circumstances, to those who knew the stakes."
    • The term "concentration camp" was a Deadly Euphemism used by the Nazis for the death camps they used to exterminate Jews and other undesirables. The original definition of "concentration camp" was a place to imprison large populations of people without the intent of killing them, similar to the internment camps that held Japanese Americans during World War II.
  • The Soviets (more specifically Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov), during the Winter War, referred to the bombings on the Finnish people as "airdropping food to the starving Finnish." Ironically, this resulted in the Finnish coining the infamous name of their improvised incendiary weapon, the Molotov Cocktail.
  • Governments "neutralizing" their victims.
    • An interesting example is the phrase "terminate with extreme prejudice". The original phrase was "terminate with prejudice", which in the business world meant "fire him and don't forget why". Francis Ford Coppola added the "extreme" to the phrase in Apocalypse Now; the new phrase is arguably better-known than the old one.
      • The origin of the former is, I believe, as a variant upon court dismissals. (AFAIK) for a case to be dismissed without prejudice permits it to be filed again, whereas if it is dismissed with prejudice then this places certain restraints (similar to double jeopardy) upon the case being filed once more. This permits the courts to distinguish between e.g. cases where there simply isn't enough evidence to go to trial yet from those which are obviously time wasting or absurd. The 'termination with prejudice' similarly allows a distinction between those who are the victims of downsizing and those who have, for example, been dismissed for gross misconduct.
    • Euphemisms and coded language are often used by criminals to try to avoid detection. However, coded language and euphemisms can be introduced as evidence of conspiracy so you're screwed coming and going.
    • In the Philippine police and military, the term "salvage" is used in place of "summary execution." (This term was adopted by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale.)
    • During the Soeharto regime days in Indonesia, being "secured" (more literally, "taken to a safe place") either refers to anything from house arrest, exile, or death sentence.
    • In (if memory serves) Colombia, the term used is 'disappear', as in people getting disappeared.
      • Various places in South America, and it's not an official euphemism, but used by the public to refer to the sudden and clandestine nature of the kidnappings and executions.
      • And then it became an official term: the crime against humanity of enforced disappearance.
    • Memorialized in the Catch-22 quote: "They're going to disappear him? They can't disappear him! That's impossible! It's not even good grammar!"
    • Destructive nuclear potency is measured in sunshine units.
    • The word execute was itself originally one of these -- it was being used in the "carry out an order" sense, short for "execute the death sentence".
      • A similar example would be "undertaker", although here it is just dealing with the disposal of dead bodies, not causing them to be dead. The word is a "false friend" for German-speakers, as it sounds like a literal equivalent of "Unternehmer" = entrepreneur.
    • Collateral damage is used to describe non-combatant casualties.
    • A couple examples from conservative pundits in the United States include enhanced interrogation for torture and contingency operations for war.
    • "Liquidate" was the preferred word for executions during Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union, though it became widely known that it was as a synonym for "kill".
    • Many English-speaking militaries ironically invert this, using "kill" in contexts referring to vehicles and structures (which are usually manned, but not actually alive themselves).
    • Brit military slang: 'we slotted a couple and the rest had second thoughts'. Have also heard 'gack/ed' and 'croak/ed'.
    • Wet job, from the Russian мокрое дело (mokroye delo) refers to assassination, usually in an espionage context. The term dates back to 19th century criminal slang for a robbery involving murder, because the victim gets wet with blood.
    • "Police Action", first used by Harry Truman to describe the Korean War, now in common use. It generally means "a war that is not officially declared as a war, but usually cites some violation of international law and/or explicit authorization from the United Nations as justification." This makes the terminology make a fair bit of sense: a state that violated international law is, in effect, a criminal, and in the absence of a neutral world police force, states are (in the modern understanding) entitled to enforce international law on the behalf of the international community--if the international community, as embodied by the UN (and specifically the Security Council) says it's OK.
    • During the Rwandan Genocide the mass murders were described by the government as "working". For example, in one province, where the local governor didn't want to participate in the genocide, Rwanda's presidents ordered him removed, so that they could "work".
  • Subway/train suicides in Japan are referred to as "human damage incidents."
    • It's common in New York too, where service disruptions caused by people being run over (suicide or otherwise) are always referred to as "police investigations." Of course, that term is also used to refer to literal police investigations, so it can be somewhat ambiguous. Subway workers and those who picked up the term from other sources typically refer to such a thing as a "12-9;" the radio code for such incidents.
    • On the same note, in Germany (or Hamburg at least) the incredibly bureaucratic word "Personenanfahrschaden" (basically untranslatable - maybe Person knock-down damage) was in use, but this practice was discontinued, probably because of sillyness and a not really working euphemism.
    • Oddly, within the London Underground, public service announcements about these incidents are likely to be euphemism-free, e.g. 'There are delays on the Jubilee Line due to a suicide at Finchley Road' or 'A person under the train at Dollis Hill'. Meanwhile, amongst Transport For London staff the euphemism one-under is more likely to be used, apparently.
  • Does the real-life Mafia actually use the phrase "took him to the cleaners" to refer to killing someone?
    • More generally refers to beating someone up, in British slang, i.e. "I'll take you to the fuckin' cleaners"
    • Pseudo-Mafia slang: "sleepin' with the fishes" usually refers to a body that's been dumped into the nearest body of water, usually with some concrete to weigh the body down, sometimes stuffed into a 55-gallon drum. Generally when such a victim washes up, it's said that "police suspect foul play". Ya think?
  • If it is said that someone, generally in the armed forces, is not taking prisoners, what do you think happens to the people they capture? A catch and release program? Disarming them and sending them on their way? Maybe... but probably not.
    • Similar with "giving no quarter".
  • Another old favourite: "while attempting to escape". Lampshaded in the scene in Casablanca where Captain Renault says that he and Major Strasser had not yet decided whether Ugarte had committed suicide or had tried to escape.
  • In the middle and early modern ages, trials for heresy (later also extended to those for witchcraft) would end with the clerical judges handing over those found guilty to the secular authorities, commending them to their mercy. Of course the secular authorities invariably executed them, often by burning at the stake.
    • Though if one confessed and renounced one's heresy, and did not return to it, one could usually escape with a lesser penance. Relapsed heretics, however...
      • Of course, quite a few courts considered cutting your throat before you were burned a lesser penance. Witch hunters were paid by the bonfire.
  • In Finnish criminal slang, a hitman is called a "torpedo".
  • Ethnic cleansing. Just as bad as it sounds.
  • "Falling down the stairs" is a common one (in the UK at least) to describe police beating up prisoners, either for interrogation or just revenge.
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