Anyone besides English speakers denature their blasphemiea
May 13, 2009 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Zounds! Odd's Bodkins! Jiminy Cricket! Gosh darn it! English Christianity seems nervous about taking the Lord's name directly in vain and comes up with these odd re-arrangements to avoid blasphemy. Can't think of any languages that take the third commandment quite the same way, but perhaps you can.

(Sacre Bleu I suppose comes close, but still-) Also wondering when this phenom began. Extra points for similar soft pedalling in other religions, languages. (The only Arabic curses I know are scatalogical and/or family oriented- does no one step over that particular line?)
posted by IndigoJones to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think the term is "minced oath."
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:18 PM on May 13, 2009

Italian has a lot of these "minced oaths," most notably corpo di Bacco.

Quebec French is teeming in them, the most famous being Tabernac! And there are euphemisms for tabernac, like Tabernouche!

Google "minced oaths" and see what you find.

In the 19th century, oath-mincing in the US attained such a height of delicacy that there was a euphemism for "I swear"--"I swan" (also rendered "I swun"). "Well, I swan, I've never seen such a thing in all my born days!"
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:22 PM on May 13, 2009

Jews don't refer to the deity directly except in prayer. In writing you'll often see people using circumlocutions to refer to the Divine or omitting letters ("G-d"). A similar practice can be seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where the Tetragrammaton is occasionally written with a different form of letters. I think scholars are divided as to whether this is because this form of writing was considered holier (and more suitable for the Teragrammaton) or less holy (so that the scribe wasn't "really" writing the Tetragrammaton.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:35 PM on May 13, 2009

Response by poster: Corpo di Bacco is not really dissing a Christian faithful, though. Nor is it really fuddling the actual words. Cf also Porca Giuda (or even Porca Madonna). I'm interested in clear blaspemy watered down, so to speak.

But minced oaths, not a phrase I was familiar with, thank you. Nor tabernac, for that matter (interesting that it should be so strong an insult, if the googles I found are right).

Learning more already, which is the best part of Ask Metafilter! More welcome.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:36 PM on May 13, 2009

Corpo di Bacco is not really dissing a Christian faithful, though. Nor is it really fuddling the actual words.

I was taught by my Italian teacher that it was a euphemism for "Corpo di Cristo," just as "Jiminy Crickets" is a euphemism for "Jesus Christ." Both Jiminy Cricket and Bacchus exist as concepts, but people don't generally mean to swear by them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:40 PM on May 13, 2009

In Danish people will say "For Søren" instead of "For Satan," Søren being a fairly common boy's name. I realize it's not taking the lord's name in vain, but at least a parallel structure of sorts. I'll see if I can think of more.
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:44 PM on May 13, 2009

In Swedish, jisses!, jösses! and jistanes! are variants of Jesus that are used for surprised exclamations, much like Gosh!. There are also lots of euphemisms for the Devil.
posted by martinrebas at 5:44 PM on May 13, 2009

Hmm...okay, watered down blasphemy. If I remember my 17th century English literature class and the corresponding Oxford English History volume for the time period, I believe minced oaths were used, at least in part, because there were very real social and punitive consequences for blasphemy, or even the appearance of spiritual impropriety.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:47 PM on May 13, 2009

Following up on Sidhedevil's suggestion, this wikipedia page is a rough guide to Quebecois profanity. Generally, the whole kit and caboodle is based upon religion, as compared to swearing in France, which is more scatological (e.g. "merde").

I note "chrisse", "christie" etc. which are arguably avoidances of the commandment?
posted by girlpublisher at 5:55 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

¡Ostras! (oysters) instead of ¡Hostia! (communion wafer/host) in Spain. ¡Hostia! is an expression of surprise, kind of like No way! or Oh my God!
posted by Stewriffic at 6:13 PM on May 13, 2009

I once had Chilean friends, the mother would always say "Mier...coles" to avoid swearing. (Miercoles means Wednesday, mierda is the swear word in question). I always thought it was funny when I was learning Spanish, she was always going on about Wednesday!

Not sure if it was widespread or just a family tradition...
posted by Admira at 6:49 PM on May 13, 2009

But my example above has nothing to do with religion, sorry about that...
posted by Admira at 6:55 PM on May 13, 2009

French has morbleu (death of God), parbleu, pardi & c. (by God), nom de *replacement for God (in the name of...), as in nom d'une pipe or nom d'un petit bonhomme. Rabelais is full of attenuated swearwords like that.

Note that in Quebecois (I say this as a speaker), pronouncing Christ "crisse" or Vierge "viarge" is just that; to attenuate, you'd say something like "Christie". Other attenuation I've heard: Calice -> Calâce, Hostie -> Hostic (but 'stie is just another pronunciation), Ciboire -> Cibôle.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:22 PM on May 13, 2009

You might be interested in the work of Stephen Pinker, a linguist who writes for the general population. I saw him speak recently at Harvard about swearing in particular, and he identified this type of oath as one of those classes which cuts across virtually all languages. There are a bunch of interviews where he talks about this on Youtube, it's from his book The Stuff of Thought.
posted by sophist at 9:36 PM on May 13, 2009

I've also heard Calice -> Caline for Québec.
posted by Decimask at 10:58 PM on May 13, 2009

I think the Italian version you're looking for would be porco zio instead of porco dio & zio cane instead of dio cane. I can't really think of any watered down ones for Jesus or the Virgin Mary, though.

I don't recall ever really hearing corpo di Bacco before, but I hear per Bacco every so often. Santo cielo (literally "heavenly sky" but "Heavens" is probably closer) I guess isn't exactly what you're after. If I think of any more, I'll post them.
posted by romakimmy at 3:17 AM on May 14, 2009

Russian is full of euphemistic swearwords, so much so that some modern 'shocking' swearwords were once euphemisms themselves. The ones related to religion, though, are either very mild (chort po'biri, the devil take it/you, an expression of annoyance or frustration) or not really a swearword at all (Bozhe moy!, my God!).
posted by lolichka at 3:55 AM on May 14, 2009

Response by poster: I was taught by my Italian teacher that it was a euphemism for "Corpo di Cristo," just as "Jiminy Crickets" is a euphemism for "Jesus Christ."

Interesting. Hadn't thought of that, but I can see it.

Too many good answers for best of, and all appreciated. More always welcome.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:53 AM on May 14, 2009

A very strong Dutch curse is "godverdomme", or "Goddamn". Polite people may prefer to say "verdorie" or even "verdraaid" (twisted) instead. There is also a weaker variation, "gatverdamme", which merely means "yuck". Another one is "Jeetje!", instead of "Jezus!"
posted by monospace at 9:13 AM on May 14, 2009

Response by poster: "Per Bacco!" of course being "By Jove!" sort of kind of.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:20 PM on May 14, 2009

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