Words are used to communicate ideas from one person to another. They may project sorrow or joy, hatred or love, contempt or disgust, or other qualities. They suggest our interests, our level of education, our knowledge, our wisdom. Our choice of words can result in hurt or encouragement for others, or provide the entry into or the exit from employment. What others may think of us can be coloured by the words that we use. This essay deals with one type of word, that where one word really means another – the euphemism.
Webster’s New Explorer Dictionary and Thesaurus defines euphemism thus: “the substitution of a mild or pleasant expression for one offensive or unpleasant.”
Most Christians, regardless of denomination, would not consider the use of profanity or obscenity, which would degrade the one whom they worship. However, would that person knowingly, or innocently, use any word or expression that substitutes for profanity or obscenity? For those Christians who hold their religious belief high, it might be well to consider this. They really do not want to be considered as having double standards, deserved or not.
Euphemisms are commonly known as mild or minced oaths. They are often heard on television programs, read in books, or heard in conversation with others. In general, their use is commonplace and is acceptable in our society. Does anyone really think that there is anything wrong in using this form of speech? That will depend upon the individual. After reading this essay, you are asked to consider whether or not this is something that concerns you. If you see nothing wrong, you will continue using this vocabulary. If you see it as wrong, you may want to try to eliminate the words. This will take time. If you think it is wrong, but do nothing, you may appear to be hypocritical, especially if you have a strong religious belief.
Following is a list of words that are commonly substituted by euphemisms. This is a sampling of the terms involved. These words are not considered to be colloquialisms, slang, or idioms, which also replace other words. The information has been gathered mainly from A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Double Talk (Crown Publishers, 1981), by Hugh Rawson. Some of these euphemisms can also be found in Dictionary of American Slang (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975), edited by Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, and in unabridged dictionaries – Oxford English and Webster’s New International. You may be surprised to see some terms in the list. If you be strongly opposed to speaking profanities and obscenities, you may not like to read some of the terms.
- by God
- by Jesus
- Christopher Columbus
- golly gee
- gosh Almighty
- gosh awful
- good God
- good gracious
- good gravy
- good grief
- goodness sakes alive
- great Caesar’s ghost
- great grief
- great guns
- great Scott
- Sam Hill
- gee whiz
- Jesus Christ
- Jiminy Cricket
- Judas Priest
- son of a bitch
- son of a gun
- son of a sea cook
Here are a few other oaths in common use:
- damn: to condemn to hell
- hell: a place of torment or destruction
- my goodness: may be related to “good gracious” since goodness is associated with God in some churches
- so help me (you): with “God” an oath of swearing in court, used whether or not there is a belief in God
- thank God: a derogatory expression when not specifically the respectful thanking of God for a blessing
Many of the above expressions, as well as those using “holy,” can be traced to the Puritanic and Victorian periods of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The practice arose from the desire to express feelings, using words that fall just short of profanity. A few go back further, while a few are more recent.
It has not been easy to compile this list. However, I feel that it should be brought to the attention of all who have strong spiritual feelings. Many people are concerned about the condition of society around them and what to teach their children so that they can cope with it. Is it all right to cheat a little on the income tax return, or to say nothing when you receive too much change in a store, or not to put your best effort into a job, or to take a watermelon from someone’s garden? Who is going to know?
For those who profess Christianity, especially, is the topic of this essay something that should be taught? However, the same question can be asked of people who profess either atheism or no denominational affiliation, yet try to maintain a high level code of conduct. Are actual profanity and the use of obscene language really any worse? As I was, I suspect that many people are unaware of the meanings of some of these words. Christians are aware that the Old Testament commands that the Lord’s name not be taken in vain; and that the New Testament states that one must not swear an oath, but say, Yea, Yea, or, Nay, Nay. Now it is up to readers to decide whether or not these words should be used in their conversation.