Minced oaths in literature

Minced oaths in literature

It is common to find minced oaths in literature. Writers often include minced oaths instead of profanity in their writing so that they won't offend audiences or incur censorship.



W. Somerset Maugham referred to this problem in his 1919 novel The Moon and Sixpence, where he admitted:

Strickland, according to Captain Nichols, did not use exactly the words I have given, but since this book is meant for family reading, I thought it better — at the expense of truth — to put into his mouth language familiar to the domestic circle.[1][2]

In particular, authors of children's fiction sometimes put minced oaths into the mouths of characters who swear a lot, as a way of depicting a part of their behaviour that would be unconvincing not to represent, but also avoiding the use of swear words which would be considered unsuitable for children to read.

In 1851, Charles Dickens wrote:

Bark's parts of speech are of an awful sort—principally adjectives. I won't, says Bark, have no adjective police and adjective strangers in my adjective premises! I won't, by adjective and substantive! ... Give me, says Bark, my adjective trousers![3][4]

The term dickens itself, probably from the surname, became a minced oath when referring to the devil.[5]

In some cases, minced oaths are used which it seems very unlikely people would actually use in real life; examples include "blessed", "by Jove", "golly" or "gosh", "gee", "dang", "dagnabit" and "goldarn it".[citation needed]

Norman Mailer's novel The Naked and the Dead[6] uses "fug" in place of "fuck" throughout.[7][8][9]

Mystery writer Fran Rizer deploys "kindergarten cussin'" in her Callie Parrish series, where the main character can be heard muttering, "Dalmatian!" and "Shih Tzu!"[10]

In Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, characters use oaths such as "flaming" or "blood and ashes" or the interjection "light" in the same strength as a curse word, without having to print swear words.

Science Fiction writer, John Brunner, in novels such as The Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar, uses 'shiv' and 'slit' to refer to male and female body parts (and sometimes males and females) respectively.

The lead characters of Anthony Crowley (a demon) and Aziraphale (an angel) from Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, both use minced oaths on a number of occasions, though for different reasons (Aziraphale genuinely means to avoid offense, while Crowley, being a demon, simply finds it more acceptable to his post to say 'gosh' instead of 'God').

In Stephen King's 2006 novel Lisey's Story, the main characters, Lisey and Scott Landon, use the word smuck instead of fuck, replacing it wherever fuck would be conceivably used: smucking, mothersmucker, smucked up, etc.

In the Gaunt's Ghosts series by Dan Abnett, the Imperial Guardsmen use the word feth as a general all-purpose swear word, primarily to replace the word fuck.

In the series TZA, John Spencer uses spash in place of most curses from the second book forth.

Throughout his comic novel Myron, Gore Vidal replaces various obscenities with the names of judges who were involved in an obscenity trial.

In the Codex Alera series, by Jim Butcher, most obscenities are replaced with a variation of the word crow, e.g. crows or crowbegotten.

Terry Pratchett uses minced oaths for comic effect, for example in Mort: "A wizard. I hate ----ing wizards." "Well, you shouldn't ---- them then," replied the second, effortlessly pronouncing a row of dashes.

In Stephen King's 2009 novel Under the Dome, the character 'Big Jim' Rennie avoids swearing by replacing words such as fucking and clusterfuck with cottonpicking and clustermug. Ernest Hemingway substituted muck for that with which it rhymes in 'Across the River and into the Trees ' and fornicate for that with which it doesn't rhyme in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.' It makes for some awkward constructions in the latter.

Comic books

In the Judge Dredd comic strip featured in 2000 AD, the futuristic justice department approved the terms Stomm, Drokk, and Grud. This last is a clear reference to the Christian God as it is accompanied by the apparatus of an organized religion, including "Church of Grud" and similar. Use of the terms includes the colorful "Grud on a Greenie!".[11]

In comic series Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, the characters sometimes use the word fook in place of fuck.

The DC Comics character Lobo, an invulnerable, intergalactic bounty hunter uses the term bastich or bastiches as a combination of bastard and bitch. i.e. "Take that you lousy bastiches!"

Captain Haddock, from the Tintin comic books, swears unlike a real sailor with sesquipedalian ejaculations like "billions of blistering blue barnacles" and "thundering typhoons".[12]


In the Al Pacino epic Scarface, the title character Tony Montana, played by Pacino, is warned with hilarious effect by his Colombian accomplice in the censored version of the film, "Don't fool with me, Tony", and "I warned you not to fool with me, you foolish little monkey". Otherwise, the film, especially in its uncensored version, is filled with use of the word 'fuck', and the censored TV version replaces these in their dozens with 'fool'.

Napoleon Dynamite, in the film of the same name, which is rated PG, uses minced oaths to a particularly comical effect.

In the 1945 war film A Walk in the Sun, the screenplay substitutes "loving" for "fucking" (the universal American soldier's descriptor).

In the 1984 film Johnny Dangerously, the character Roman Maronie is known for butchering the English language, especially English vulgarities:

  • You fargin' sneaky bastages! (You fucking sneaky bastards!)
  • Don't bullstye me! (Don't bullshit me!)
  • You lousy corksuckers. (You lousy cocksuckers.)
  • Dirty son-a-ma-batches. (Dirty son-of-a-bitch.)
  • I'm gonna shove 'em up your icehole. (I'm gonna shove 'em up your asshole.)

In the 1998 film The Big Lebowski, a well-known television edit exists of one profane heavy scene altered. "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass" is changed to "This is what happens when you find a stranger in the alps".

A television edit of the film Repo Man contains the injunction "Flip you, melon farmer!" (Fuck you, motherfucker!)

Finally in what has to be the ultimate example, in Snakes on a Plane Samuel L Jackson's iconic line, the centerpiece of the film, "Enough is enough, I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!" was changed to "Enough is enough, I have had it with these monkey fighting snakes on this Monday to Friday plane!". Surprisingly the new line matches his original mouth movements nearly perfectly.


Late Elizabethan drama contains a profusion of minced oaths, probably due to Puritan opposition to swearing. Seven new minced oaths are first recorded between 1598 and 1602, including 'sblood for By God's blood from Shakespeare, 'slight for God's light from Ben Jonson, and 'snails for By God's nails from the historian John Hayward.[5] Swearing on stage was officially banned by the Act to Restraine Abuses of Players in 1606, and a general ban on swearing followed in 1623.

In some cases the original meanings of these minced oaths were forgotten; 'struth (By God's truth) came to be spelled 'strewth and zounds changed pronunciation so that it no longer sounded like By God's wounds.[2] Other examples from this period include 'slid for "By God's eyelid" (1598) and sfoot for "By God's foot" (1602). Gadzooks for "by God's hooks" (the nails on Christ's cross) followed in the 1650s, egad for oh God in the late 17th century,[13][14] and ods bodikins for "by God's little body" in 1709.[2] This is similar to the use popularized in the 1950s of gee whiz as an oath for Jesus' wisdom.[13][14]

In modern times, the gang members in the musical West Side Story talk in an invented 1950s-style slang that includes several minced oaths. At the end of the "Jet Song," they sing "We're gonna beat / Every last buggin' gang / On the whole buggin' street / On the whole ever-mother-lovin' street!" where buggin and mother-lovin are obvious minced oaths.


"Freaking" (or sometimes "fricking") is often employed on U.S. over-the-air television entertainment programming as an alternative to the adjective "fucking", as in "where's my freaking food?" It is rarely used to replace "fucking" as a term for sexual intercourse.

In the Father Ted episode The Old Grey Whistle Theft, Ted's picnic at the local picnic area is disturbed by people claiming that he is in their "fupping spot". The woman yells out "Fup off, ya grasshole" and when Ted asks them why they are talking like that, the man points to a list of picnic area rules, one of which is "No Swearing". The man finishes by yelling out "Fup off, ya pedrophile." In every single episode of Father Ted no Irish character utters the word "fuck", apart from one scene in Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep where the phrase "fucking hell" is shouted twice; although its attenuated alternative "feck" is heard repeatedly throughout.

In both incarnations of the television series Battlestar Galactica, characters use the word 'frack' (original) or 'frak' (re-imagined) in place of 'fuck'. Characters in the original series also use 'felgercarb' in place of 'shit'. Characters on Veronica Mars then adopted 'frak' from Battlestar Galactica.

In the TV series Farscape the characters use the word 'frell' as a combination of 'frig', 'fuck', and 'hell' (as in "What the frell is going on?"), and the word 'dren' instead of 'shit'. 'Hezmana' and 'yotz' are also used as rough replacements for 'hell' and 'crap' respectively.

In the TV series Firefly, characters often use the word "gorram" in place of "goddam" or "god damned." Additionally, the characters do much of their cursing in Mandarin Chinese. This keeps the show unobjectionable enough to air on network television, yet at the same time maintain a realistic level of profanity for a show about outlaws, inspired by the wild west.

Likewise, in Red Dwarf, characters use a series of minced oaths regularly. Two such are used moderately, 'Gimboid' and 'goit' are derivations of 'gimp' and 'git' respectively, but the final is a series trademark, 'smeg'. Although it is said to have derived from 'smegma', the show's writers have said it is just a coincidence, as it's similarity to the label of a Swedish White-goods manufacturer. In any case, it has evolved into a word almost entirely specific to the Red Dwarf universe and numerous alterations were used in the show, such as: 'smeg-head', 'smeg-for-brains', 'smegging', etc.

In South Park the word "fudge" (instead of "fuck") is frequently used, especially in the episode Chef's Chocolate Salty Balls, where Chef sells chocolate fudge delicacies called "Fudge 'Ems", "Fudge This", "Go Fudge Yourself", "I Don't Give a Flying Fudge" and "I Just Went and Fudged Your Momma". "Lover" and "loving" are used in place of "fuck" through the South Park episode "Chickenlover". This is explained in the episode to be for the purpose of protecting young news viewers.

The television series A Bit of Fry and Laurie contains a sketch in which Fry and Laurie employ minced oaths; it is situated in a courthouse, and Laurie plays a policeman reciting the words of an offender. Examples include, "I apprehended the accused and advised him of his rights. He replied "Why don't you ram it up your pim-hole, you fusking cloff prunker."" and "Skank off, you cloffing cuck, you're all a load of shote-bag fuskers, so prunk that up your prime-ministering pim-hole." The sketch ends with Fry asking of Laurie's response to this language, and Laurie proclaiming, "I told him to mind his fucking language, m'lud."

In the Nickelodeon children's show iCarly characters often use the term "chizz" as a general purpose expletive, most often used in place of 'shit'. iCarly is notorious for its thinly veiled adult humor.

Dubbing of movies for television often replaces "Fuck you!" with "Forget you!", "bastard" with "buzzard", "fucking" with "stinking", and "prick" with "pig".


The Fugs, a mid-1960s band named by Tuli Kupferberg, used a euphemism for 'fuck' found in Norman Mailer's novel (above), The Naked and the Dead.[6]

The Busta Rhymes album "When Disaster Strikes..." features an intro to the track Get High Tonight which is voiced by a taxi driver who also mangles English with such gems as "Freeze mother-bitches" and "I blow you" (away) after he pulls a gun in response to the rapper smoking a joint in the cab. These samples are from the film Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, in the scene where an Arab shopkeeper in Miami mistakes the protagonists, who are police officers, for robbers.


In a discussion of profanity, writer Leigh Lundin uses the glyph ƒ.[15] He further discusses being 'nannied' by internet software, noting that words like cockatoo, pussycat, and even Hummer may be flagged,[16] which has become known as the Scunthorpe problem.

In that vein, ProBoards forums replace the word "cock" with "thingy", thereby transforming the statement "cock his shotgun" into "thingy his shotgun". Similarly, the Something Awful forums, filters replace "fuck" with the phrase "gently caress" and "shit" with "poo-poo" for unregistered users, and the Fark website replaces words such as "fuck" with "fark".[17]

Online, alternative typographical glyphs are sometimes used to evade profanity filters (such as $hit or $#!+ instead of shit, @$$ or @rse instead of ass or arse).

"fsck", from "filesystem check", is commonly used on Usenet and in other technology-related circles to replace "fuck".


  1. ^ Maugham, W. Somerset (1919). "chapter 47". The Moon and Sixpence. London: William Heinemann. ISBN 978-0486446028. OCLC 22207227. 
  2. ^ a b c Hughes, Geoffrey (1991). Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. pp. 187. ISBN 0-631-16593-2. 
  3. ^ Charles, Dickens (1851) (PDF). On Duty with Inspector Field. 151–52. http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/dickens/pieces.pdf. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  4. ^ Manis, Jim (1999) (PDF). Reprinted Pieces by Charles Dickens. Penn State series on Dickens. Hazleton, Pa: Pennsylvania State University. pp. 150. http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/dickens/pieces.pdf. 
  5. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1989. ISBN 978-0-19-861186-8. http://www.oed.com/. 
  6. ^ a b Mailer, Norman (1948). The Naked and the Dead (50 ed.). New York: Picador. pp. 736. ISBN 978-0312265052. http://www.enotes.com/naked-dead. 
  7. ^ Garner, Dwight (2007-11-12). "Remembering Mailer: The High Heat and the Roiling Simmer". Paper Cuts (The New York Times). http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/12/remembering-mailer-the-high-heat-and-the-roiling-simmer/. Retrieved 2009-06-27. 
  8. ^ Martinetti, Ron (2007-11). "Norman Mailer: Autocrat of the Remainder Table". American Legends. http://www.americanlegends.com/authors/norman_mailer.html. Retrieved 2009-06-27. 
  9. ^ "Norman Mailer: The streetwise literary master". The Daily Telegraph. 2007-10-10. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1568933/Norman-Mailer-The-streetwise-literary-master.html. Retrieved 2009-06-27. 
  10. ^ Rizer, Fran (200 8). Casket Case. Callie Parrish. 3. Berkley Penguin. ISBN 978-0425224281. 
  11. ^ Saunders, Suzanne; (Segnbora-t) (2000-04-15). "Swear words from science fiction". Everything2. http://everything2.com/node/497833. Retrieved 2009-06-27. 
  12. ^ Lopresti, Rob (2009-11-11). "Billions of Blistering Blue Barnicles!". Criminal Brief. Seattle. http://criminalbrief.com/?p=9734. Retrieved 2009-11-13. 
  13. ^ a b The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (4 ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin. 2006-08. ISBN 978-0618701728. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/. 
  14. ^ a b Laird, Charlton Grant (2004-04). Guralnik, David, Agnes. ed. Webster's New World College Dictionary (4 ed.). Cleveland: Wiley, John & Sons. ISBN 978-0764571251. http://www.yourdictionary.com/. 
  15. ^ Lundin, Leigh (2009-03-29). "WTF". Criminal Brief. http://www.criminalbrief.com/?p=5931. Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  16. ^ Lundin, Leigh (2007-07-29). "Bad Words". Criminal Brief. http://www.criminalbrief.com/?p=137. Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  17. ^ Curtis, Drew. "Fark". Fark.com. http://www.fark.com/. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 

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