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On CursingAs far as I can remember, I've never been much for cursing. I'm not sure why that is. Most likely it's because my parents successfully discouraged it, and I was young enough that I don't remember. But, it's also true that I'm not an angry person … and that's the point of cursing, to let the world know that you're angry, right? I do come up with an occasional “dammit” when I've done something exceptionally clumsy and inconvenient—broken a glass and sent pieces flying everywhere, or sliced my finger open with a bread knife—but that's about it.
I don't even use the milder words any more, like “darn”, “gosh darn”, or “shoot”. I have vague memories of using them freely, and of realizing, embarrassingly late, that they were originally last-second substitutions for real curses; so maybe they lost their appeal for me after that.
By the way … I kept wanting to refer to the milder words as euphemisms, but somehow that didn't seem quite right. So, I did a quick search, and learned that the words are indeed euphemisms (because they're used in place of other words), but that there's also a more specific name for them: minced oaths. Speaking of euphemisms, I only just realized that “curses” is a funny one. Would the milder word for that be “euphemisms”? Euphemisms! Foiled again!
If I don't curse, what do I say instead? Well, it depends on the situation. If I'm disappointed, instead of the conventional “darn”, I like to say a sad “boo” (not to be confused with a scary “boo”). Conversely, if I'm pleased, I like to say “yay”, or maybe “great”. If I've made a mistake, I like to say “oops”, or maybe “d'oh” if the mistake was unusually stupid. Or, if I'm particularly disgusted with the result, I might come up with “fooey”, or just “pff”.
If I'm amazed at something, I'll usually say “wow” … and then half the time I'll instantly regret it, because it always sounds wrong if the amazement is negative.
A: My house just burned down.
The conventional word for (positive) amazement, “gosh”, is so mild that it doesn't even sound like a curse. I wouldn't hesitate to say that, or “golly”, or “jeepers”, but they don't come naturally to me, and I guess it's just as well, since they are all minced oaths.
One mild curse word that I do actually use is “heck”. It's an interesting case … I only like to use it in writing, not in speech; and when I want to use it, it seems like the only possible word, because it has a special meaning that no other curse has, something to do with taking an argument or position to an extreme. For an actual example, see the first paragraph of The Complexity of Driving.
@ December (2005)