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Common Core Standards: ELA

Grades 9-10

Language L.9-10.5

L.9-10.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

  • Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text.
  • Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.

The use of figurative language is what separates humankind from reference books, robots, and weather radio. Specifically, figurative language consists of words or phrases used to paint a picture or make a point without stating that point in plain language. Figurative language can drive a point home much more completely than a literal statement of the same facts.

Although hundreds of types of figures of speech exist, we’ll focus on just three: the euphemism, the oxymoron, and the choice of one word over another to convey certain shades of meaning, even if the two words have basically the same denotation, or dictionary definition.

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Teaching Guides Using this Standard

Example 1

Sample Activities For Use in Class

1. Euphemism

A “euphemism” is an inoffensive word or phrase that stands in for another word or phrase whose meaning is offensive to most hearers. While ninth- and tenth-graders are probably well-acquainted with a wide range of euphemisms for private body parts, euphemisms exist to cover many other events, things, and activities as well.

Create groups of three to five students each, and give each group a stack of index cards. One stack will contain various euphemisms, while the other stack contains the word or phrase the euphemism is supposed to stand in for. Some possible pairs include:

Euphemism Word/Phrase
“passed away” died
“pre-owned” used
“industrial action” labor strike
“pass wind” burp or fart
“let go” fired
“downsized” fired
“has a screw loose” crazy or mentally ill
unmentionables underwear
“quantitative easing” printing money

Have each group place its decks face-down in the middle of the group. When given a signal to begin, the groups turn over both decks of cards and race to put each euphemism with its correct term as quickly as possible. When all the cards are matched, the players all raise their hands. The group that gets all of its matches correct as quickly as possible is the winner.

Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a phrase that appears to contradict itself. As in the previous activity, have students form groups of three to five people each and give each group two stacks of cards, which should be shuffled and placed face-down in the middle of the group. Each card contains half of an oxymoron. Some examples include:

Part One Part Two
civil war
student teacher
original copy
interim destination
living dead
virtual reality
random order
definite possibility

Have students race to see which group can re-create their oxymorons as quickly as possible. The first group to get all its pairs matched up correctly is the winner.

Discuss: When might it be important or appropriate in writing to use a euphemism? When would you use an oxymoron? When would you definitely want to avoid using one or the other?

Quiz 1 Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

  1. Which of the underlined phrases in the following sentences is a euphemism?

    Correct Answer:

    My best friend’s mom was going to pay for our concert tickets, but how that she’s between jobs, it looks like we’ll have to come up with the money ourselves.

    Answer Explanation:

    • (c) - “between jobs” = “unemployed.”
    • (d) - This is figurative language, but not a euphemism; browsing the Internet is not a generally offensive phrase that the phrase “surf the Web” is trying to cover up, making (c) the better answer.

  2. While seven-year-old Alejandro was visiting his grandparents this summer, his puppy was hit by a car and died. Which of the following is NOT a euphemism that explains what happened to the puppy?

    Correct Answer:

    he is big-boned

    Answer Explanation:

    “big-boned” is a euphemism for “fat,” not “dead.”


  3. Your best friend has a crush on Donald, the varsity quarterback. You, however, don’t trust Donald because he’s been caught lying on multiple occasions. How do you break this news to your friend without using the words “lying” or “liar”?

    Correct Answer:

    All of the above are euphemisms that avoid using the word “lying” or “liar.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - This choice is correct. While your best friend might wonder why you are speaking like the BBC if you said the above lines, they do all convey the information that Donald is a liar without mentioning the word “lying” or “liar.”


  4. Which of the following underlined phrases is NOT an oxymoron?

    Correct Answer:

    The second half of the game will be on television after a message from our sponsor.

    Answer Explanation:

    “Message from our sponsor” is a euphemism for “advertisement” or “commercial,” but it is not an oxymoron.


  5. Another way to describe an oxymoron is to call it a:

    Correct Answer:

    contradiction in terms

    Answer Explanation:

    an oxymoron is made up of two or more conflicting words.


  6. All of the following phrases are euphemisms for “died,” but only one implies that a person died due to foul play. Which one is it?

    Correct Answer:

    wearing cement shoes

    Answer Explanation:

    implies the person was knocked off by gangsters, which is the origin of the phrase.


  7. Suppose you work at a hospital, and you are responsible for preparing the hospital’s annual report. This past year, your hospital has had an unusually high number of patients die during heart surgery. All of the following sentences convey this fact, but which does it in the LEAST emotionally shocking way without directly referencing death?

    Correct Answer:

    We experienced an unusually high number of negative patient outcomes this year.

    Answer Explanation:

    “negative patient outcome” is practically a clinical euphemism for “patients who died in our care.”


  8. Lisa is looking for an oxymoron to describe her children’s rooms, which are so messy they look as if a tornado hit them. Which of the following is her BEST choice?

    Correct Answer:

    controlled chaos

    Answer Explanation:

    (d) - This is the only one of the choices that suggests “messy room.”


  9. You and all your friends want to go to the beach for Spring Break. You know, however, that your friend Marie’s mother lost her job and the family doesn’t have enough money to send Marie on vacation. Which of the following phrases do you use to tell your other friends that Marie can’t afford to come along, but without directly saying Marie is poor?

    Correct Answer:

    Marie is “in reduced circumstances”

    Answer Explanation:

    aka, poor


  10. You were recently elected President of a small island nation with a large army. You want to use your army to fight off the army of the larger island nation next door, which is trying to plunder your island. Your advisors are okay with the war, but say you shouldn’t call it a “war” lest you upset your citizens. What do you call it instead?

    Correct Answer:

    any of the above

    Answer Explanation:

    These are all euphemisms for “war”


Quiz 2 Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

  1. David’s grandfather died recently, and his grandmother is heartbroken. In order to protect his grandmother’s feelings, David MOST likely uses which of the following words or phrases to describe his grandfather’s death?

    Correct Answer:

    passed on

    Answer Explanation:

    This is the gentlest and least crude or offensive of the options listed here.


  2. When David’s grandmother is out of earshot, however, David tells his friends the truth: he never liked his grandfather and feels bitter about his death. How is David MOST likely to describe his disliked grandfather’s death when his grandmother can’t hear?

    Correct Answer:

    kicked off

    Answer Explanation:

    This is the crudest of the euphemisms here, and therefore the one that probably expresses David’s bitterness best.


  3. For Questions 3 through 6, one part of an oxymoron phrase is given. Choose the word that best completes the oxymoron.

    elected __________

    Correct Answer:

    king

    Answer Explanation:

    Kings are not generally elected.


  4. ________ subway

    Correct Answer:

    elevated

    Answer Explanation:

    Subways are underground, hence the prefix “sub-”


  5. __________ estimate

    Correct Answer:

    exact

    Answer Explanation:

    An “estimate” is an approximation, not a precise number


  6. gregarious __________

    Correct Answer:

    recluse

    Answer Explanation:

    to be gregarious is to be an extrovert; recluses are introverted by nature


  7. A children’s book that describes the death of a beloved pet as a “journey to Pet Heaven” is using which type of figurative language?

    Correct Answer:

    euphemism

    Answer Explanation:

    avoiding the harsh term “died” by masking it with a gentler term that is not meant literally


  8. The children’s book described in Question 7 most likely uses the phrase “journey to Pet Heaven” because:

    Correct Answer:

    it is easier for small children to accept than the word “died.”

    Answer Explanation:

    (c) - Most euphemisms are used because the more direct words are too harsh and convey difficult or uncomfortable ideas.


  9. While browsing the library, you find a book titled Cold Summer, in which a girl named Summer alienates all her friends by playing cruel practical jokes on them. The title of this book uses what kind of figurative language?

    Correct Answer:

    oxymoron

    Answer Explanation:

    (e) - Besides being the name of the character, the word “summer” calls the warm season to mind. Here, it is paired with the word “cold” which is opposite in meaning.


  10. The book MOST likely uses the type of figurative language you identified in Question 9 because:

    Correct Answer:

    the contradiction of “cold” and “summer” (usually a warm season) creates interest that draws in prospective readers.

    Answer Explanation:

    (b) - The contrast of opposites is what gives most oxymorons their charm.


More standards from Grades 9-10 - Language