how to cuss: good, old fashioned lists

About two weeks ago, this song appeared in my news feed and I have been listening to it continuously since then:

Okay, and now that we’ve all had our laugh at her silly Canadian accent, let’s get real.  When you want to scream so loud that your head actually flies up into the air for a moment, do you want the word to be “merde” or “marde”?  Actually, you probably want it to be “putain” or perhaps an f-bomb, but I guess I’d just like to take a moment to marvel at

The sounds we like to say when we say expletives

(an as yet unpublished Raymond Carver manuscript)

  • Spit-able, rickety consonants: f, p, k, t, cks.
  • When screaming: open vowels (hence my slight preference for “marde”).  When whispering/spitting: closed vowels and diphthongs.
  • In American English: monosyllables (highly spit-able).  In French: two syllable words or, better yet, words that can be whined (wound?) out into two syllables (mer-de).

And, when we can’t curse in earnest, how about

The words we say instead

  • Weirdly, French and English speakers replace their most notorious swear words with food words: “Oh fuuudge” and “Purée!”
  • Body parts.  Obviously, you won’t offend anyone by screaming “thumb” and you probably won’t feel much better, but “Oh, ass!” or “Bollocks” are perhaps more forgivable than some of the alternatives.
  • Words that still let us say the word we wanted to say.  The only example that comes to mind is “shih-tzu!” but you feel me.  (Although, in French, they sometimes prefer to say completely innocuous words that have almost nothing to do with the original.  “Merde” becomes “Mercredi” in a heartbeat.)

Additions to either of these lists are welcome invited.


8 responses to “how to cuss: good, old fashioned lists

  1. Bloody, Bloomin’, Blimmin’ Blinkin’, Blasted… Brits like their ‘bl-‘ sound haha! (Even if they are only about as offensive as ‘damn’.)

  2. Also I was trying to think of some good English swear words and my brain went on a slight tangent to this: which you may find amusing, hopefully it makes sense without much context!

  3. Asher Jacob Reisman

    I believe our mutual friend Deborah Roberts did some research in ancient profanity. In Greek tragedy it comes down to a lot of o and p sounds mashed up together.

  4. In Spanish, similar to your “mercredi” example, curse words are often replaced with similar-sounding words, although often these words don’t have any other meaning. Instead of “joder” (fuck), for example, they might say “jolines” or “jobar.” Another instance is changing the expression “Me cago en Dios” to “Me cago en diez,” the second of which is now vastly more common than the originating phrase, which literally means “I shit on God” but is more or less, “Why is this happening to me, this is terrible.”

  5. This might be an Australianism (and reflect our pronunciation) but ‘far canal’ is a good one for your last category. Also a very much loved comedian/tv presenter here got sacked from his tv gig in the 60s or 70s for his continual ‘faark faark’ crow calls.

  6. And my vote for the swearing champions of the world are the Greeks! I went to school with a lot of Greek-Australian kids and their swear words became common parlance throughout the whole school. There is probably not a person from my home town (Melbourne, Australia) who doesn’t know the word ‘malaka’.

  7. Pingback: linking about stuff | La-la-language

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