David Recine

Death and Bathrooms: Diplomatic Language in English Conversation

Imagine you’re with family or friends, and you suddenly have to use the bathroom. There could be a few different reasons you need to go to the bathroom. Maybe your nose is starting to get really congested and you need to blow it. Maybe your bladder or bowels are full. If you’re becoming really sick (and are unlucky enough to be around other people as it happens), you may even need to vomit.

But of course, you probably wouldn’t tell your buddies the specific reason you need to go the bathroom. That would be rude… and gross. Instead, you’ll likely just tell them you’re going to the bathroom, right? It’s the polite thing to do, in the English-speaking world and in nearly all other cultures.

Now imagine you suddenly need to go to the bathroom, but you’re not with family or friends. Instead you’re with a group of people you don’t know quite as well—co-workers, colleagues, classmates you just recently met…. In a situation like this, saying “I need to go to the bathroom” could still be seen as just a little bit rude or childish in the English speaking world (and in other cultures too). So even more polite, diplomatic language is needed.

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Below is a list of a few euphemisms—polite, alternative ways to say something—that you can use to excuse yourself when a bathroom break is needed in a formal social situation.


Euphemisms for going to the bathroom

  • “I’ve got to go freshen up.”
  • “I’ve got to go use the little boys’/little girls’ room.”
  • “Excuse me a moment… nature calls.” (This one is formal-but-playful, so use it carefully.)
  • “I’m going down the hall/across the hall/to the back, etc…” (Basically, say you’re going in the direction where the bathroom is.)
  • “I’ve got to use the facilities.”

With this kind of indirect speech, there’s a chance someone might not understand what you’re implying. To make people at least understand that you are leaving only temporarily, follow any bathroom euphemism with a reassuring “I’ll be right back.”

Bathrooms and the things we do in them can be a delicate subject. But there’s another social topic where polite euphemistic language is even more important: the subject of death and dying. In situations where someone has died or may die soon, it’s important to use very gentle language—and to understand the gentle language other people are using. If someone is talking about the death of a loved one, you don’t want to force them to speak more directly because you didn’t understand their euphemisms. Here is a list of polite English phrases that are used in these kinds of very sad situations.


Euphemisms for death and dying

  • Death (describing someone who is already dead)
    • “He is at peace.”
    • “She is no longer with us.” OR “She isn’t with us anymore.”
    • “He was taken from us.” (This implies especially severe sadness, and often refers to someone who died young or died prematurely.)
    • “She passed away.” (“Passed away” is probably the most common polite substitute for “died.”)
    • “He is in heaven.”
  • Dying (describing someone who may die soon)
    • “She is fading away.”
    • “He may not be with us for much longer.”
    • “She is on her last legs.” (This is more emotionally intense than other euphemisms, and has a sense of urgency.)
    • “He is not long for this world.”
    • “She is not doing well.” (This can refer to chronic illness or nearness to death, depending on the context.)



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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