G*******t, I swear too f***ing much.
August 6, 2008 1:40 PM   Subscribe

I swear. I have children. This is not a good combination. Please suggest alternatives to expletives.

My temper is entirely verbal. I would never do anything aggressive on the road but I do sit in my car and swear at people who cut me off, tailgate, etc.

My little boy, aka The Sponge, sits in the back seat (as does the baby) and picks up on EVERYTHING I say. Earlier this week, we were in the middle of a game of Candyland when he dropped the f-bomb. Ooops.

The thing is, I like swearing. I like the way it feels in my mouth, the force of it, the liberating feeling. I have to break the habit, though, so I'm looking for phrases that aren't expletives but have the same feel and emphases as swear words, along the lines of W.C. Fields's "Godfrey Daniel!" Something that will let me get the angry impulse out of my system but that can be repeated by a little boy without getting him in trouble.

HiveMind, help me change my ways--before the baby starts talking blue too.
posted by MonkeyToes to Writing & Language (122 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am the exact same way. I swear at the drop of a hat when I'm angry or frustrated. I use "Butterscotch!" in place of cuss words at work. It is satisfying because it has nice hard syllables, especially the 'scotch' part. Fun to say angrily.
posted by gwenlister at 1:43 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

In my experience, there is no substitute for a good expletive. Saying something silly in place of an expletive doesn't help you feel like you've let off any steam. Therefore, if you want to stop cursing, stop cursing. And it's not cute when little kids curse; it's disturbing. And it makes them seem classless and gauche when they do it as they get older. Sure, cursing is sometimes completely appropriate and called for. But not usually.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:47 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

when I wanted to stop swearing, I would say the names of my ex-g/fs in place of the potty words (well, at least the ones that had left me feeling scorned). This would lead to comical interactions with my friends.

Though it might lead to something else entirely if your kids started saying a significant ex's name in front of their mom!
posted by unexpected at 1:47 PM on August 6, 2008

Spongebob Squarepants says "barnacles" and "tartar sauce" where you sense an R-rated character might curse.

Don't ask why a 26-year-old with a master's degree knows that.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 1:47 PM on August 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

Learn to swear in a different language.
posted by preparat at 1:52 PM on August 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

My family always used religious curses, which led to some hilarity in church when a wide-eyed little me asked which of the saints depicted on the ceiling was Jesus Murphy.

Another perennial favourite of my father's was "Judas Priest". You could tell the kid it's a reference to a heavy metal band. :)
posted by LN at 1:53 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

I use fudge and Shitake mushroom as substitutes.
posted by euphorb at 1:53 PM on August 6, 2008

How old is your little boy? My mother used to pay us a dollar every time she cursed in front of us. After we gleefully collected our money and were able to make substantial purchases with it, she slowly killed off the habit. (Came back as soon as we were teenagers, though.)

She only ever dropped one f-bomb, though, and I was so shocked I forgot to reminder her of my payment.
posted by olinerd at 1:53 PM on August 6, 2008

Dad managed to substitute "God Bless it" for "Goddamn it" until we--his children--were out of college. We--his children--were known for shouting "Bless it!" instead of "Dammit!" Yes, people thought we were weird.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:54 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've managed to make the switch to "Fudge" and "Gol-darn it" for 98% of my expletives. My kid is six and I think she's heard me swear once and I could curse a blue streak before her.

Yes, it sounds as dumb as you think it does. :)
posted by unixrat at 1:56 PM on August 6, 2008

Make it oldskool.

'Gee golly jeepers!' - Beaver Cleaver
posted by bradly at 1:58 PM on August 6, 2008

I often say "Scheiss," when I have the need to cuss around the kid. Or there's always Battlestar Galactica's "frak."
posted by rikschell at 1:58 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I had to clean out my mouth when I started school visits for my job. I've been using "Nuts!" and "Nuts to that!" as my replacements for "Sh**!" and "F**k it!", respectively. I wanted to use something with historical context, and it helps that through the extensive catalog of English words for body parts it can still be interpreted as a little transgressive.
posted by Alison at 1:58 PM on August 6, 2008

you may just have to resign yourself to having extremely cool children.
posted by Oktober at 2:01 PM on August 6, 2008 [20 favorites]

Is there any environment where you don't swear? Work, church, etc? If you already have a "formal language mode," try to include being around your kids in the set of places you're in that mode.

If not, try to develop one, perhaps by speaking more formally in general - no profanity, proper grammar, complete sentences, no slang, etc. Pretend you are being interviewed on a TV show or something. Being conscious of your language for a while should develop a natural-feeling no-profanity mode eventually.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 2:04 PM on August 6, 2008

Best answer: Dagnabbit! Consarnit!

Their teacher may send home a note asking if your children are old-timey prospectors, but its all good.
posted by ND¢ at 2:05 PM on August 6, 2008 [9 favorites]

To clarify, then, alternatives for "that asshole cut me off!" would be, "How rude!" or "What is he thinking?!" Just get out of the habit of one-word expletives while with the kids, even if they're euphemisms.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 2:07 PM on August 6, 2008

Best answer: I have a friend who says "Cheese and rice" instead of Jesus Christ. It seems to soothe her devout Christian conscience.
posted by chiababe at 2:08 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was 6, my mother taught me to say "piss, shit and corruption" instead of um, swearing. I must have been one foul-mouthed little so-and-so. Anyway, I still do it, but you could maybe say "pee poop and corruption" instead? It not only fills the swearing niche, it makes you laugh, thus defusing the temper. (Demonstrating how hopeless this is, when my son was three he came home from his first day of preschool and informed me, in case I didn't know, that "damn" was a swear word and should not be used. uh, yeah I knew that...)

I would also like to say that I'm loving all the profane mothers on here. Thank you for the affirmation. We rock.
posted by nax at 2:09 PM on August 6, 2008

I should add that I am totally not practicing what I preach. I try, but Mario Kart Wii is just sinking me. At the rate things are going, my daughter's first words are going to be "MOTHERFUCKING BLUE TURTLESHELL!!!!"
posted by ND¢ at 2:12 PM on August 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

I just do F'ing this and F'ing that.
posted by davejay at 2:13 PM on August 6, 2008

I'm a teacher with a pretty decent potty mouth, so I have a lot of alternatives! I say things like Booger!, Poop salad!, and Crap Sandwich,! to name a few. A good ol' primal yell can sometimes help too ;-)

(I teach high school. Why yes, they do think I'm weird!)
posted by lacedback at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe an alternative would be training yourself not to flip out at other drivers.

Hopefully, the oil will be gone by the time they're driving, so this is probably moot, but teaching your children to be raging drivers won't do anyone any good.

It would probably be better for your health, as well.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:19 PM on August 6, 2008

I think no matter how you cut it up your kids will know what you are doing so really the best way to have them not curse is for you to do it. I am also in your shoes, and while I told myself I wouldn't change I can't have my boy cussing this early. He will hear it and learn it soon enough but I can't be the reason he does it.

*this epiphany came to me while we were driving home and listening to "me so horny" on satellite*
posted by doorsfan at 2:21 PM on August 6, 2008

"Cheese and bread!" and "sugar honey iced tea!" are substitutes I've heard. When you hear them enough times, they sound totally legitimate as curse words, without being offensive to anyone.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:22 PM on August 6, 2008

How old is The Sponge?

I say, continue with your swearing. Skirting around it, only makes these words more "bad."

Tell them it's like driving, or drinking alcohol - they're only allowed to do so when they're old enough. They have to earn the license to swear (rules of, proper use, it comes with responsibility etc.). Even if they don't hear these words from you, it's not like they'll never grow up hearing these words (didn't we all hear them somewhere??).
posted by raztaj at 2:22 PM on August 6, 2008 [6 favorites]

I used to have a coworker who'd yell "Ay, calabasa!" instead of cussing, which was rather endearing.

It was really hard when my daughter was at the repeat-everything stage because I'm pretty much Yosemite Sam. It's too easy for me to slip up substituting something like "oh, fudge" so aimed for occasion-appropriate exclamations: "OW!" "Now What?!" "Gah!" or "AAAGH!"

None of which stopped her six-year-old self from flipping off the bus driver when they passed our stop.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:24 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

I try to use words that start the same as my preferred curse word, but end up differently. That gives me an extra syllable or so to remember that I shouldn't be swearing. Fudge, shipwreck, darnit, jeepers creepers (instead of Jesus Christ) , piece of work (instead of piece of sh**), mother of <whatever sounds funny> (instead of motherf, or even to replace "mother of god" which offends some of my religious family), etc.
posted by vytae at 2:26 PM on August 6, 2008

I use "consarnit," "poop," and "oh, bother" when I can remember to.

Which isn't as often as I should. The other day the DVD my daughter was watching started to skip. She sighed heavily and said "fuck," in the cutest approximation of adult frustration I've ever seen. I had to try very hard not to laugh.
posted by lekvar at 2:30 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

I say "mother father" instead of "motherfucker" and find it nearly as satisfying as the original.
posted by cosmic osmo at 2:31 PM on August 6, 2008

Cant you just teach the kid when it is/isnt appropriate to use such words? I dont know, I dont have kids.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 2:32 PM on August 6, 2008

Say you are doing some yard work and the lawnmower isn't working... You may say something along the lines of:

"This fucking slag is such a piece of shit! Fuck this all to hell!"

Perhaps replace "fucking" with "effing", "slag" with "lawnmower", "shit" with "garbage" and "Fuck this all to hell" with "Consarnit" or "Daggummit"

So you get

"This effing lawnmower is such a piece of garbage! Daggummit!"

I know it will be a million times less satisfying, but someone has got to think of the children.
posted by clearly at 2:32 PM on August 6, 2008

Yeah, fuck it. The little motherfucker's going to hear that shit somewhere. Might as well be from you and not some other asshole. Just tell him not to be a dick and go saying that shit at school.
posted by electroboy at 2:36 PM on August 6, 2008 [25 favorites]

My work curse word is "snap." It works both in surprise ("oh snap!") and for frustrated resignation ("snaaap"). 80% of the people think I made it up and 20% remember junior high trends from 1991.
posted by salvia at 2:36 PM on August 6, 2008

I like rocking the old-skool, completely silly curses. I also like to swear, but I spent 10 years teaching little kids for a living, so no go. Now it's very ingrained in me to say "Rats!" "Good grief," and one of my grandfather's favorites, "Awww, fffoot."
posted by Miko at 2:37 PM on August 6, 2008

I agree with Bunnsy, Lo-Carb and others--stop swearing (at least occasionally), and stop freaking out when driving.

If you can't stop yourself from swearing in front of the kid, what hope do you have of replacing all the swearing with 'Fiddlesticks!' or whatever?
posted by box at 2:43 PM on August 6, 2008

Best answer: My mother used to shout "Bad Word" or "Bamhamit". I'm not a heavy curser and generally stuck with "bad word" or "Oh shhhhh-heck" at home. (The few exceptions generally involved a recalcitrant printer and even then only after my kids were in junior high.)

I expect my children to use clean language in my hearing. When my son was fascinated by potty language, I explained that it belonged in the bathroom - he could use those words in the bathroom or in his own room or with his friends but I didn't want to hear it and neither did his teachers or other adults. I read somewhere that the advantage, as a parent, of being easily shocked is that when your children want to upset you they say stuff that doesn't really offend you (making it easier to stay calm and respond appropriately instead of losing your temper.) The results is that my kids are very good at turning it on and off - on with their friends, off with their teachers and parents.
posted by metahawk at 2:46 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I like "Shut the front door!" yelled as if that was a different f-word in there. Added bonus of being satisfying and making people laugh the first time they hear it.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:47 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

My brother told his kids that there's a time and a place for swearing, and an age at which swearing might be appropriate in some circumstances. He's been careful not to villify swear words. It seems to work.

With little or no provocation, I often find myself swearing like a wounded pirate. At work, I switch to soft swears like dang, crap and frik or frak. When I'm really mad (I'm looking at you, frikkafrakkingcopymachineofbreakingness) I swear quietly in German. It's a very pointy language, so its swear words are particularly satisfying.

When I'm looking for a way to express frustration and help myself lighten up about whatever's making me angry, I throw together a ridonkulous soft swear like "crap in a hat!" or something. You can't stay mad when you hear yourself say somethign that ridiculous.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 2:47 PM on August 6, 2008

Well, my sister had the same problem -- which led to my oldest (now 20) niece's first full sentence:
"Mom, get your damn foot off my leg".

She turned out alright.

So did I, and my mother had a string of curses when the car didn't start that would horrify a sailor's parrot. My dad's family used swearing as emphasis, almost like an exclamation mark.

You just have to clue kids in about the fact that it's transgressive language, it doesn't get used around school or in public, and it's not a substitute for good language skills.
posted by lleachie at 2:47 PM on August 6, 2008

posted by found missing at 2:49 PM on August 6, 2008

I've more or less given up. I mean, I try to stop -- we use a lot of SpongeBob swear-words as substitutes -- but I'm afraid the damage has long been done. So to balance out the swearing we have had lots of conversations about "home" words vs. "school" words, "daddy" words vs. "grandma & grandpa" words, public words vs. private words... which I think has helped give the kids a pretty good grasp of social nuance and context. At least, it's been a while since I've been pulled aside by a preschool teacher to be informed that my three-year-old yelled "gah-DAMMIT!" when his sandwich fell apart.

My favorite story from around that same time (when my toddler son used "gah-DAMMIT!" in every sentence) is this one. My son is a total sponge, and even though I *know* he retains and then deploys every conversational gambit he overhears, I still sometimes forget. He also has no filter of any kind, so if something is in his head, it's out of his mouth. Anyway, so one afternoon when he was three, I was racing with him in the stroller, trying to get to my daughter's school to pick her up. As per usual he was declaiming a loud and free-associating steady monologue ("I like dogs! Hey, that guy has a donut! I love donuts!") as we went down the street, and as per usual I was half-listening.

As we waited for the light to change at a corner that was crowded with people, a taxi came by, and he worked it into his stream-of-consciousness reportage, saying, "Hey! A taxi! I like taxis! I like red taxis! But remember you DON'T like taxis? Because remember that one time when we were walking home and a taxi came by us and it TOTALLY splashed us and I said YAY because it's like a waterslide and I loooove waterslides, but you were mad because you DON'T like waterslides, and then the taxi just gotted us all wet and you called that taxi driver --
you called that taxi guy --
you called him a --
what did you call him?
what was that word again?
Oh, that's right! --

Everybody on the corner busted out laughing while simultaneously trying their best not to be obvious about laughing, and I said, "More or less, Nate. More or less."

"Hole-ass" has been our favorite family swear word ever since.
posted by mothershock at 2:54 PM on August 6, 2008 [151 favorites]

I like swearing in foreign languages (in America, "bloody" can be said all you like!), or using sci-fi swear words like "frak" or "frell."

But really, the kid will learn the bad words either at home or from the other kids at school. The words will be learned. What you want to worry about is teaching your kid not to use those words at school/in public/wherever you want the words banned, rather than making sure the virgin ears are not sullied by bad language.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:57 PM on August 6, 2008

I know a guy who says BOB SAGET! in place of G** DAMN IT! Cracks me up.
posted by Daddy-O at 2:59 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could pull a Bob & David and say "Mother Father!" and "Chinese Dentist!"
posted by rabbitsnake at 3:01 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think Bob Saget swears a lot in his non-Full House personae.

I recommend the Spongebob swears . . . it is just plain funny when your 3-year-old starts yelling "TARTAR SAUCE" at things. They are cooler than "dagnabit" (sorry, everyone from the midwest).

If you can't do that, I recommend moderating it when you can and teaching them the difference between normal language and cursing. The $1 jar every time they catch you is great -- they learn that it's not the right thing to do, and they will start watching you for it and automatically try to teach you not to swear.

Or, if they're like my kids, they'll catch on fast and start trying to make you swear on purpose.
posted by theredpen at 3:08 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

The other Spongebob swears I remember are "BARNACLES!" and "MOTHER OF PEARL!"
posted by theredpen at 3:09 PM on August 6, 2008

And oh, I used to live next door to an Air Force chaplain who would exclaim "Heavens to Purgatory!" Hilarious when shouted with an Irish accent.
posted by Daddy-O at 3:09 PM on August 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

My aunt says "oh, Judas Priest" - I like that one a lot.
posted by lorrer at 3:10 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty fond of "shuckybeans," "mother of pearl," "badname," and a host of nonsense words ("shangledarn," "breenboat," etc.). I'm not around kids much, though, and these usually just end up being incorporated into/remixed with my robust reserve of swears.
posted by quatsch at 3:19 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I knew I had to do something when my now seven-year-old replied at age three, "watering the fucking flowers", when I asked him what he was doing while we were in the garden.

I usually just groan, cuss under my breath, or say dang it, darn it (even dang it or darn it can be misheard as dammit). A favorite of mine is, "GOD BLESS AMERICA!" Nobody is going to fault a kid for saying that.

This past month my five-year-old has been saying "freakin'" We got him to stop saying dammit, but now he is saying freakin'. When he was four he said, "what the hell?" a few times. Evidently, I was saying, What the hell? often enough for him to pick it up. It really isn't cool or funny. My close friend was telling me the other day how her daughter is calling people idiots. My friend has some road rage and calls other drivers idiots often. My parents were high-school dropouts and managed never to cuss in front of my sister and I. I cringe that I don't have more couth around my kids. Yes, they're only words and they aren't hurting anybody, but there's nothing cool or good about a kid with a foul mouth. You just have to make a conscious decision not to use the words.
posted by LoriFLA at 3:21 PM on August 6, 2008

I have successfully trained myself to use Khan as my default swear word. It's a really satisfying word to yell.
posted by shrabster at 3:27 PM on August 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Thirding "FRACK!" as a good substitute. "Son of a biscuit," "God bless it," "God save it," and "Mother of Mercy" are ones I use at work.

My new favorite is "BANHAMMER!" I like the way it rolls off the tongue, and it actually has meaning. I yell it at cars that cut me off.
posted by cereselle at 3:34 PM on August 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

I don't have children or work with children but I have for some reason taken to saying "Booger" a lot. For low-level frustration I find it's actually quite satisfying.
posted by Mender at 3:34 PM on August 6, 2008

It may be problematic since it sounds so similar, but my favorite non-sweary swear phrase comes from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: "Succotash my Balzac, dipshiitake." Satisfying and guaranteed to crack you up.
posted by alpha_betty at 3:39 PM on August 6, 2008

I think it's best to try as hard as possible to not say anything at all. Substituting will be exactly that. A substitute, until the kid learns what the word is 'supposed to be.'

My parents never used them and so I never used them. I didn't start adding swears to my vocabulary until my second year of college and after a few years I started phasing them out.
It took me a while to appreciate the effort my parents made to not expose me (or my brother) to these words but now I do. There's nothing attractive about people with swears pouring out of their mouth... I think it's even ugly.

I remember in high school one of the teachers had this poster on one of her walls, it said: Profanity is for those who lack the imagination and intelligence to otherwise express themselves.

Even though I wasn't a potty mouth at the time I still thought it was lame. Fast forward to the future and I realized the quote actually made a lot of sense.

(Side note: I do enjoy a good "fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck" held until I run out of breath once in a blue moon when dealing with something super frustrating)
posted by simplethings at 3:42 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

There is a great book on the subject, Ashley Montagu's The Anatomy of Swearing, which might not help you swear less, but it will help you swear more effectively.
posted by gyusan at 3:42 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

my buddy says "eff word" when things go south.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:45 PM on August 6, 2008

I'm with the those who've taken swear words from Sci-fi shows. Frak and Gorram (from Firefly) get said by me much more than Fuck or goddam.
posted by saffry at 3:51 PM on August 6, 2008

I somtimes pull off a good job of stopping by saying
" FUUUUUCCCCrying out loud! "
(say aloud to hear how this is funny.)
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 3:54 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Learned from some character on an awful HBO show one night: "Fuh-cryin' out loud!" You can say the whole word and still take "-rine out loud" on the end! No one actually says, "For crying out loud," it's always "Fah crine out loud," so it works perfectly.

Being a major geek (and loving the End of World flash video), I'm more prone to say, "WTF" than to say what it stands for.

Though I do think it's best to try to suppress the outburst at all, since a little kid yelling "WTF!" isn't really much better than a little kid yelling "What the f***" (UNIX geeks might use "fsck," too, BTW, though it's not easy to pronounce. "What the file system check!" doesn't quite work.)

And to whoever mentioned Bob Saget: he has an "R-rated comedy show," which basically consists of him swearing a lot and making sexual jokes. I always thought it would be like if my dad tried to make me laugh by making dirty jokes about my mom: creepy and disturbing, not at all funny.
posted by fogster at 4:02 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

My friend's father (a christian who is certainly not permitted to swear in front of any of his kids or grandkids) uses "bovine scatology," which I always thought was pretty clever. Also, swearing like Brit works wonders (oh bloody hell!)
posted by bananafish at 4:13 PM on August 6, 2008

I don't have kids but have learned to try to and control my sailor mouth in certain situations. I like "Blast!" and (a hair more actually curse-y) "Balls!"
posted by mostlymartha at 4:14 PM on August 6, 2008

I tend to use the word "crumbs" when frustrated. I started when I realised I shouldn't swear when teaching Sunday school and it sort of stuck.
posted by oreonax at 4:22 PM on August 6, 2008

I don't know. I think you want to avoid "fuck" and its ilk for sure, but you can go pretty far toward satisfying the cursing urge with "goddammit," "Jesus Christ" and similar without irreparably damaging kids. They can learn that those are grownup words. I did, and my half-sisters did. I like the idea of grownups being grownups around kids. My grownups smoked and drank martinis, and I understood perfectly well that I'd have to wait to do those things, too.

If you want to expand into noncurse exclamations, I like old-fashioned expressions like "criminy," "by cracky," and "dangit."
posted by HotToddy at 4:26 PM on August 6, 2008

I'm a nanny, so dropping the f-bomb would be the equivalent of giving myself a pink slip.

I've been really good at training myself just not to cuss, but the one thing I haven't been able to rid myself of is the propensity towards taking the name of the Christian Lord in vain. Which has somehow become so multi-purpose as to be combined with the f-bomb in times of great distress. "Jesus Fuck" gets a lot of mileage.

At work, I don't know how seriously the parents take matters of religion, and since I've never heard either of them saying "Oh dear Lord" or anything of that nature (the MomBoss says "Rats" where expletives usually go), I substitute "Cheeses of Nazareth."

Kind of like Cheese & Rice, but with a little extra zing to it.

As for commentary on the outside world, I like to point out the obvious such as "That man was NOT LOOKING where he was going."
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:46 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just tried yelling "MONKEYTOES" at the top of my lungs. It's pretty satisfying!
posted by Hellgirl at 4:52 PM on August 6, 2008

Both my parents were teachers and they were VERY serious people when it came to language. Both swore liberally and emphatically. I was allowed to express myself any way I saw fit, with the exception being anything remotely like a slur. I could literally say "Fuck this!" (with extremely mild consequences), but if I would have thought to say the "N" word...well, let's just say that I knew never to say it. Ever.

They taught me the weight and power of a command of my vocabulary. Not to use swear words when many wonderful words were at my disposal. Swear for emphasis only. That people will judge your intelligence by the way you speak and present yourself. I think of swearing as being like an exclamation point.

I turned out O.K. I don't go around cursing people out. I don't even swear when people cut me off. People say I'm too nice! I say just try to chill out a bit more, so as to reduce instances wear swearing will be an issue. Teach your kids that words have a lot of power in them. They'll be fine.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 4:59 PM on August 6, 2008

Response by poster: OP here. Thank you, everybody.

More info: We live in a VERY conservative and Christian area where even giving an opinion, much less couching it in colorful language, can be dicey. I don't want my son to say anything that could be considered offensive and even "Cheezits-cripes" is borderline OK.

I am not a constant curser but when under stress, I do use swear words as a safety valve (as opposed to, you know, violence, addictive substances, partying, throwing things, tantrums) to help defuse feelings of anger. I have been better on the road lately. (The f-bomb I dropped had to do with minor damage I did to DH's vehicle. What can I say? It was a tense situation.) Swearing, however briefly, lets me direct the anger into the word rather than into the situation and I generally can focus a little better after the initial angry impulse is out of my system. The title? True and exaggerated, with the intent of drawing as much useful advice as possible. (Thank you, all.)

I have made it very clear to my son that there are words for grownups to use and words for little guys to use and have explained that grownups will be angry with him if they hear him using certain words.

Gwenlister, cereselle, you have the right idea: A word that feels good to say angrily. Unixrat, I don't mind sounding dumb, especially as I often mutter to myself over difficult projects. Mr. Bunnsy, I'm usually a very formal speaker and my son is too, to the point of correcting other children's lazy speech. NDcent, "dagnabit" and "consarnit" are good because you can get them out between gritted teeth and they mimic the stresses of true curse words.

There is occasionally a time and a place for well-crafted profanity and I know that my son will add it to his vocabulary eventually. In the meantime, I prefer not to rush him.

Please keep the suggestions coming. They are giving me lots to think about and mutter to myself.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:00 PM on August 6, 2008

Shit, I meant *where* :)
posted by Grlnxtdr at 5:02 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Drat!" has a satisfying something to it, and as far as I know it has no offensive meaning.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:07 PM on August 6, 2008

Also, simple peer pressure and wanting to fit in kept me from picking up on my mother's cursing habits. It was painfully embarrassing, though, hearing her go "JESUS CHRIST!" in school carpool with all my Orthodox Jewish friends.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:09 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like "sheep-dip." "Fahrvergnügen!" can be good, too.
posted by magicbus at 5:19 PM on August 6, 2008

Awhile back I made a quick change from being in the military to being on a news anchor team, and embracing "holy cow" and "good grief" is what kept me from talking about the usual "crap" and "bullshit" during the on-air banter.
posted by crapmatic at 5:19 PM on August 6, 2008

I use 'Bork' instead of the f-bomb, it doesn't feel overly doofy and I've managed use the substitute around kids and at work.
An ex of mine used to say 'Sacajawea!'
I have to say, the spongebob 'barnacles' is pretty appealing, though. I'd not heard that before.
posted by 8dot3 at 5:47 PM on August 6, 2008

I haven't seen 'blast!' yet, which is what I use at work. Admittedly, it's usually a gorram copy machine instead of a blasted one, but dropping loads of paperwork is 'blast!' There's also 'blazes'. The 'b' plosive seems to work.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:51 PM on August 6, 2008

i heard a really hilarious story in NPR about a nice old southern grandma who never swore, until once, something pissed her off so much she shouted, "oh, chicken butt!"

it seems innocuous enough to say around kids....
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:56 PM on August 6, 2008

When my dad starts to say the "f-word", he catches himself and says "fine" instead. It's sort of cute... "Oh fffffine, what a great driver that guy is."
posted by arianell at 6:18 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

A preacher's wife I know says "ham drammit." I have no idea where she got that from, but it has the right feel to it.

For a while I was very fond of jackhat, a blend of jackass and asshat (itself a euphemism), which doesn't really mean anything but gets the point across.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:38 PM on August 6, 2008

Oh, I don't know about "frack" as used in BSG... There was one episode where Starbuck used it about 5 or 6 times in a 10 second period and I was thinking to myself as it went on "There is NO way anybody watching this is able to pretend that 'frack' is anything but the f-word in this scene", so that might not fly in a conservative area.
posted by barc0001 at 6:46 PM on August 6, 2008

"Freakin' A." I tend to say that, unless I'm TRULY pissed. "Scheisse", "fruitcake", "for Pete's sake"...
posted by curagea at 6:50 PM on August 6, 2008

This might sound goofy, but I'm dead serious. Get you some Shakespeare plays and mine the text for insults and colorful expressions. I've found it much more satisfying to refer to poor drivers as "scurrilous knaves" than "assholes" and to express surprise with sayings such as " 'Swounds!" rather than "shit!"

I'd start with Much Ado About Nothing - the back-biting between Beatrice and Benedick alone should get you started on the path to classy, well-read cussing.
posted by EatTheWeek at 7:12 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ooooh, I forgot about this -- I picked up, "What the French, Toast?" (and some other fun phrases) from this Orbit gum commercial. Other than that, I like the Shakespeare idea very much. But Spongebob's "tartar sauce!" "mother of pearl!" and "barnacles!" (along with the non-Spongebob "motherfather!") have so far proved to be the most satisfying substitutes...
posted by mothershock at 7:41 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by SansPoint at 7:54 PM on August 6, 2008

Yay! Another opportunity to share my favorite commercial. This woman really cranks out some satisfying yet totally innocuous curses.


What the French, toast?!


Stinky McStinkface!

You hoboken.

I love it. Can you just feel her palpable mix of hurt and anger? It's really well done and she just busts OUT that first one. Fury on the boil. I think the kumquat line would work great in traffic, as would Stinky McStinkface. They sound like they'd go great with a shaken balled fist.

I curse a fucking lot. I love to fucking curse. it feels great. But I don't want to be that guy so I'm working on it. Plus I work with some gay people now and really need to shed the last of my gay-themed insults and exclamations from junior high for good. It's really satisfying to shout out COCKSUCKERS! when Excel crashes or even ASSFUCKING COCKSUCKERS! or COCKING FUCKSUCKERS! but lately I've been trying out POTSTICKERS! and POT ROAST! instead. Potstickers has a nice mouthfeel and some good staccato force, while pot roast maybe feels light one syllable. My English friend says SUGAR instead of shit, which is cute. My wholesomer than wholesome old colleague would say RATS there, which was funny and retro. A friend uses MOTHERSCRATCHER. Another says GOD... BLESS AMERICA! I want to try out FILBERT for something soon. I think PELVIS could work well too. There's also the old classic Jiminy Christmas!

Good fucking luck, goddamnit!

ps - FUCK!
posted by Askr at 8:01 PM on August 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

One of my friends with a kid has substituted "CHICKEN!" for the f-bomb. Has that nice CK sound.

She also has a cautionary tale about the dangers of swearing in foreign languages. She learned a host of Russian profanity at college, and every now and then, one would pop out when she wanted to avoid swearing.

Then she let a string loose on a playground with a couple of Russian/Slavic nannies and boy the looks she got could have frozen a glacier. So just remember when you're swearing in a foreign language that eventually there will be someone to catch you out.
posted by canine epigram at 8:05 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Everything I learned about pseudo-cursing, I learned from TV. I picked up "Scheisse" from The Bourne Identity and "frick" from watching too many episodes of Scrubs (notably season 4 episode 6).
posted by phrayzee at 8:12 PM on August 6, 2008

A guy I used to work for taught me, by oft-repeated example, to say "Jeez-o-Pete" (which still will not fly in conservative areas, natch). As others have noted, a good, strong "Judas Priest" can be comforting (with the same problem with devout overhearers).

My single contribution to keeping the air slightly less blue is, "Son of a bear!" (I use it as an off-the-cub remark.)
posted by bryon at 8:15 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fancy-dress Facist! Purple profiteering jellyfish! Here's a list of Captain Haddock's swears (from Tintin). They're fun and overly harmless. In fact, utilizing a few of his random exclamations might improve your vocabulary! Wikipedia (second link above) says that Captain Haddock had at least 192 of these exclamations! Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles in a thundering typhoon!
posted by Mael Oui at 8:31 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I remember my sister in law once saying this priceless gem to a driver who'd cut her off: "You caramel coated crotch crunchy!" I say that one a lot. Also mother of pearl.
posted by purpletangerine at 8:34 PM on August 6, 2008

"Dude!" Is a perfectly respectable alternative to "baby-ass raping shit-covered cock motherfucker whore of fuck!!!"

Also works for other swears.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:49 PM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh man, reading this thread I was just reminded of a summer when I was a camp counselor, and the kids were getting an enormous kick out of yelling

"Shut the FRONT DOOR, you son of a BISCUIT!"

With proper emphasis it sounds pretty bad.
posted by Miko at 9:00 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

How appropriate
posted by purpletangerine at 9:06 PM on August 6, 2008

My wife and I swear quite a bit, and our daughter is very observant and picks up on all kinds of adult behavior. We've taught her that there are certain words that we say when we are at home or in the car or with close friends that might hurt other people's feelings. Those words are OK around our immediate family, but you'd never want to use them when someone who might be offended by those words might hear, because making other people feel bad is not something we do in our family. I think it helps that my wife and I really do not swear outside the home, so we practice what we preach.

She's learned the lesson so well that she really does not like to use even the mildest swears, like crap or damn. I've never even worried that she might swear at school or at Grandpa's house. If your kids are as spongy as you think, surely they will learn to use swears like you do -- in private moments of frustration.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:08 PM on August 6, 2008

Some of my favourite swearword substitutes are: foop, shiver me timbers, jiminy crickets, get nicked, ping ding, jeez louise, far out, you stinking great spatula, holy snapping duckbrains, cinder and ashes (thanks Thomas!), holy dooly, twonk, good heavens (that has to be said in a falsetto), jingo crikeys, muffin tosser, dagnabbit, and I've always wanted to be able to say oh my stars and little comets ala Donald Duck but I've never been able to get that out properly.

Those are for when I'm in front of small children, although I did make someone smirk at me unkindly when I said 'shiver me timbers' in public without a small person being present (I wasn't wearing an eyepatch or a parrot at the time either).

I do most of my swearing in the car, too.
posted by h00py at 9:17 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I guess there's always "sweet nibblets!". I use dangit alot as well as daggnabbit.
posted by meeshell at 9:18 PM on August 6, 2008

This might be beyond your particular pale..."catbutt" is an expletive at my house, and it works nicely because the image hilarity (C'mon, cat butts are funny!) often diffuses the situation.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:33 PM on August 6, 2008

+1 for don't swear. "Pretend" swears are, at best, a placeholder until they learn the proper swear, and at worst, an incentive to try to figure out what you really mean. Removing the profanities is the only way to not put the notion in their heads that certain things call for bad language, whatever words that means. To be completely honest, this problem is part of why I'm not ready to have children yet, because I have spent too much time as a foul mouthed asshole, and I don't trust myself to drop it quickly enough.

On the other hand, they will learn it sooner or later, and they are just words. Realistically, if you keep swearing around them, they will wind up like the majority of people in this thread, myself included. But if you want them to not swear, and really not, then you need to remove that part of each sentence before you say it, not just swap the word for another.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:13 AM on August 7, 2008

Homer: Yeah, Moe, that team sure did suck last night. They just plain sucked! I've seen teams suck before, but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked!
Marge: HOMER!
Homer: I gotta go Moe, my damn weiner kids are listening.
posted by apis mellifera at 4:02 AM on August 7, 2008

Maybe I'm an outside the box thinker about this (I admit I have no children), but the whole not using swear words around kids and talking "baby talk" I think, at least in a small part, works to really fuck up their world view.

You tell them they can't use a word and yet you use it. That's not right if you think about it. Instead let them know you don't like them using the word and correct them on the proper places not to use the world, to exercise the same restraint that we do. Saying fuck to a teacher is not a good thing.

I am reminded of a young boy, seven or eight, who was playing with a skateboard when the thing started rolling down a step street on a hill. He uttered a single "shit" then looked over at me afterward, thinking I'd yell at him. I just smiled. It was more than appropriate.

They will say it sooner or later, so it may be better to encourage restraint now. And you don't want to be saying things like "fiddlesticks" when the guys are over.

Although I use "frak" from time to time, but that is more for the fun of the word.
posted by thebreaks at 6:01 AM on August 7, 2008

Suggestions, in varying degrees of silly:

"Bloody Hell!" (I like the British-ness of it, but it might still be too much.)
"Fargin' Icehole!" (Ah, Johnny Dangerously. The classics never die.)
"SCUD!" (Been using that since Desert Shield.)
"Holy poop!"
"Demon Dogs!" (Old cartoon classic.)
"Bones of Anaxos!" (Shakespearean classic.)
"Tim Horton's Donuts!" (Don't ask.)

The power of an expletive comes from your perception of it, and the inflection that you give it. You can invent your own exclamations, and they can really work. But, you do have to train yourself into the new vocabulary with practice.
posted by Citrus at 6:30 AM on August 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I say "Bad word!" but the kids have nonetheless realized that *something* goes there -- so count me in on just not saying anything. Hard, but hearing the 4-y.o. mutter "Where's my hecking fire truck" this week is a good incentive.

I already trained myself to say "Pardon me?" instead of grunting "Wha?" so this should be do-able. I hope.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:33 AM on August 7, 2008

Forgot a favorite:

"Seriously!" (Grey's Anatomy stylee)
posted by Citrus at 6:34 AM on August 7, 2008

A childhood friend who had a Polish-speaking father would use Polish epithets -- non-obscene ones, even so. But for a little kid, "zagrev!" works as a curse, and only means "Dog's blood".

Another person I met once said that he used random Arabic words as curse words, because even if you were only saying something as innocuous as the numeral "one," he still thought it sounded like a curse ("waheed" is "one", and that was his favorite).

Me, I'm inclined to just make nonsense syllables up that SOUND like they COULD be curses ("shucky-harg" just popped into my head, and I'm getting rather fond of it; I also once referred to someone as an "anal pucky-head," which still to this day feels strangely more satisfying than calling him a "motherf*cker"). I read that Douglas Adams did the same when he was writing the "Hitchhikers" series and was trying to come up with a name for the character "Slartibartfast" -- he wanted a name that just SOUNDED vaguely obscene without actually being so, so he started with something that blatantly was obscene (I think it was "Fartyfuckballs") and just played with the syllables until the obvious obscenity was out, but it still sounded naughty.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:47 AM on August 7, 2008

In an effort to "class up" the show a bit, the State is proud to present the following scene from William Maguire's prize-winning modern drama, Tenement, the story of an unemployed dockworker who is forced to move in with his alcoholic father, and with his wife, who refuses him a divorce. Now, we did have to soften the language a bit for television, but we feel the message of the piece still rings clear. Ladies and gentlemen, Tenement.
posted by Who_Am_I at 8:04 AM on August 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I know I'm a bit late on this, but...

My friend Jeff explained to his children that there is a point system. As you go through life, certain events happen that give you points. More points for more traumatic events. And the number of points you have acquired determines which words you are allowed to say. Since he has lived through a bank robbery, been struck by lightning, and had three children, he now gets somewhere around one million points just for waking up every day. The kids, on the other hand, don't get many points until high school graduation, which is about 50. So whenever he accidentally swears in front of them, he reminds them that he has points. Hell, sometimes his youngest will say "it's okay, dad, we know you have points."

When his son was around 8 or 9, Jeff overheard a conversation where the son's friend was ranting about something using some only slightly offensive words and his son said "Dude, I don't think you have enough points for that."

I told Jeff he needs to document the rules of this system for parents everywhere.
posted by thejanna at 8:09 AM on August 7, 2008 [32 favorites]

I have a friend who painted houses. When he was on the job and wanted to express frustration without offending them or tipping them off that he'd done something wrong, he'd simply say, "There." It was as though he had put the finishing touch on a particularly good piece of work.
posted by sleevener at 8:55 AM on August 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

without offending them, the homeowners, that is
posted by sleevener at 8:55 AM on August 7, 2008

It didn't occur to me on my previous comment, but this is pretty cool: Voragh's Notes On Klingon Cursing
posted by phrayzee at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2008

Best answer: I picked up "Jeezum Crow" from a cranky old New Englander I used to know. Very satisfying.
posted by shiny blue object at 10:00 AM on August 7, 2008


My father is the type that never swears. But when he does, it catches everyones full attention. If there is a way to teach your Sponge to do it correctly, that's the way.
posted by thetenthstory at 12:34 PM on August 7, 2008

If I'm frustrated at work I'll occasionally actually say "Curses!" It still strikes me as very mustache-twirling villain.
posted by you're a kitty! at 1:04 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Art Kumbalek of the Milwakuee Shepherd Express paper taught me to say, "Man, oh Manischewitz" in times of stress, pain, or amazement. (See http://www.expressmilwaukee.com/article-2386-mr-big.html)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:31 PM on August 7, 2008

Best answer: My eighth grade teacher didn't like the word "crap" and each time we said it we were made to go into the hallway and think of five replacement words. The next time we said "crap" we had to think of five different words, and so on. Because I'm a big fan of the word, I decided I should make a list of replacements to have at the ready. My friends and I came up with the following 62 words.

Schneikees, rats, shucks, sugar, darn, dang, oh well, oy, oy vey, shoot, what the heck, you gotta be kidding me, biscuits, ai curumba, not again, oh man, phooey, dagnabbit, confound it, fiddlesticks, nuts, doh, fye, no, dagummit, cripes, jeez, gee willickers, golly gee, boo, fudge, rubbish, doggonnit, curses, blast, bummer, blasphemy, uh oh, GBOF (Great Balls o' Fire), for Pete's sake, for goodness' sake, good gravy, how unfortunate, humbug, bah, just my luck, fire and brimstone, argh, gore, bloody ashes, jiminy cricket, blimey, crikey, criminy, jumpin' jehoozefets, son of a gun, son of a monkey's uncle, mecha-lecha-hi-mecha-hiney-hiney-ho, holy smokes, holy schmoly, ai ai ai, flippin' "a".

I know them because the original list lives in my wallet. I'm not sure if Mr. P. would have accepted flippin' "a," and some are pretty ridiculous, but there you go.
posted by papayaninja at 9:50 PM on August 7, 2008 [7 favorites]

Who needs words? Suprised that this hasn't been mentioned yet, but I find an angry animalisitic roar ("argh" with attitude) to be very theraputic, especially when coupled with a pounding of the steering wheel (or more often, desk) with my hand. At least in situations like you described.

Agreeing that scheisse is a good substitute for shit, but the really is no word as satisfying as fuck when the world implodes on you.
posted by kjs4 at 11:29 PM on August 7, 2008

There are a good bit of filthy smegheads, rather than shitheads, who tend to cut me off when I'm driving, and quite a few dingleberries, rather than dumbasses, that I deal with in my work.

All of that said, when the occasion necessitates it, I normally don't hold back on my F-bombs.
posted by phredgreen at 6:31 PM on August 9, 2008

I get a lot of mileage from "argh!" for frustration and "crumbs!" for disappointment. My two-year-old has caught on to "argh," a word which helps her e.g. get stubborn caps off of markers.

This same child had to have a couple of surgeries, one at 12 months and one at 18 months, both of which ended with her arm in a great big cast for a few weeks. Both times she was really too little for us to explain what would happen: one day we woke up early, skipped breakfast, spent the morning in an unusual playroom, the nice doctor got her to doze off. After the second surgery she woke up in the recovery room, saw her cast, and said --- much more clearly than most of her other language, at that point --- "well, shit." We didn't know about thejanna's system of "points" at the time but thought this was a perfectly sensible response.

I'm not a big fan of words that "sound like bad words," like "son of a biscuit." I did get a kick out of Samuel L. Jackson saying "fuck ... crying out loud."
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:52 PM on August 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

for "motherfucker", my go-to curse, what matters is the scansion and letter sounds - so -
Mamma-jamma! (of a person - some people will think this is still blue but it seems harmless to me)
Monkey butlers! (as an exclamation)
Buttered pumpkin! (exclamation)

My dad used to say "Christmas!" as an shocked/angry exclamation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:13 PM on August 11, 2008

Hee! I once worked for someone who also used "Christmas" as an expression (and if he really got mad, it was, "oh, CHRISTmas EVE!")

I've also just been fondly reminded of my high school's old school nurse, who came along as a chaperone when my school choir did a week-long concert tour of Puerto Rico. For whatever reason all us kids got into the habit of playing cutthroat games of the card game "Bullshit" at the hotel, and when the nurse caught us playing, she was scandalized by the fact that we were calling it thus and always insisted that we instead call it "El Toro Poo-poo" instead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:06 PM on September 2, 2008

Better late than never.

My three-year-old says "Oh Bother", much like Winnie the Pooh. It's the cutest thing.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:44 PM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

annnnnnd now that it's been re-linked to on MetaTalk, I've just remembered still another one -- the way my father would curse when my brother and I were little was to say "Mecka-secka-wrecka." With the proper tone, it sounds like you're muttering a string of curses under your breath.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:22 PM on June 25, 2009

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