Garonne (garonne) wrote in linguaphiles,

phonetically related milder versions of stronger swear words


It seems to me that in some languages, swear words often come in phonetically related pairs, one strong word and one milder equivalent which sounds similar.

Like in English, one can say:
fudge instead of fuck
sugar instead of shit
heck instead of hell

In French one can say:
punaise instead of putain
mince instead of merde

Does anyone have nice examples from other languages, or even better, examples of languages where people DON'T ever do this?

Note that I'm specifically talking about cases where one word is being (consciously or subconsciously) used as a phonetic replacement for the other, stronger one, e.g. I doubt anyone would be going around exclaiming 'Fudge!' in English if the exclamation 'Fuck!' didn't already exist. However German Mist may be a milder version of Scheisse, but they're related by meaning, not by sound.

Etymological comments on potential pairs welcome too. This whole post was prompted by a discussion with someone who insisted that mince was a swear word in its own right and would exist even if merde didn't. Maybe they're right - I couldn't manage to confirm it either way.

Tags: euphemisms
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  • 48 comments

lied_ohne_worte

May 30 2014, 17:30:56 UTC 3 months ago Edited:  May 30 2014, 17:50:59 UTC

In German, you can use "Scheibenkleister" for "Scheiße". It works because you can start with the same syllable, "Schei-" and then quickly take a more acceptable turn. The word "Scheibenkleister" is really only used for this purpose, including in the Duden dictionary, although people tend to explain it as "window glue" (literally, the word can mean "pane/disc paste/glue"). There are however other words for that sort of thing which are used by such products and the people who work with them.

I just remembered another: "Armleuchter" (candelabrum) for "Arschloch" (asshole).

From your post and muckefuck's comment, it seems that English has a lot more of these than German does. I suspect that when we decide to swear, we just do it. Additionally our range of swearwords is relatively small, and anything to do with "ficken" ("fuck") is a lot cruder than the English version, so people like myself who freely use "Scheiße" would not really use it at all.

majolika

May 30 2014, 19:57:03 UTC 3 months ago

there are also expressions to evade religious curses in German, like the ones whswhs mentioned below in English - like "Kruzitürken" for "Kruzifix" (cruci-turks / crucifix) or "Sakradi", "sapperlot" (and "Sacklzement" (little bag of cement)) instead of "Sakrament". There are many more. Most are from Southern Germany and Austria (catholic regions).

majolika

3 months ago

muckefuck

3 months ago

dieastra

3 months ago

muckefuck

May 30 2014, 17:42:22 UTC 3 months ago

Amusingly, the traditional English term for these is minced oaths.

I wouldn't say they come in pairs, though. Generally there's a range of alternatives for any common taboo swear. Shoot is also a substitute for shit and euphemisms for fuck I've heard before include fug, frick, flock, and frack.

lareinemisere

May 30 2014, 18:25:25 UTC 3 months ago

And then there are the extended ones like 'for crying out loud' instead of 'for Christ's sake', or 'shut the front door' for 'shut the fuck up'. I had assumed the latter was made up until I saw it used in a US teen drama the other day, by a character who had just made a crucial discovery.

Another fun example of not-pairs is the all-purpose oath-fragment 'smeg', invented for a British comedy/sci-fi series called Red Dwarf. Its characters would tell people to 'smeg off', call each other 'smegheads' when annoyed and react to surprising developments with 'what the smegging smeg...?'. The show's writers have consistently denied deriving the word from the word 'smegma', a term for secretions which become trapped in the folds of mammalian genitalia.

philena

3 months ago

lareinemisere

3 months ago

muckefuck

3 months ago

tortipede

3 months ago

garonne

3 months ago

lareinemisere

3 months ago

dieastra

3 months ago

shizuku_san

3 months ago

teaoli

3 months ago

shizuku_san

3 months ago

garonne

3 months ago

coranglaisman

May 30 2014, 18:09:27 UTC 3 months ago

In Finnish, one of the most common minced oaths for "vittu" ("fuck", "c*nt", among other possible meanings) is "kettu" ("fox"). The phonological similarity is in the long consonant rather than the initial syllable like your other examples.

pikku_gen

May 30 2014, 22:10:03 UTC 3 months ago

Or "vattu" (raspberry), or "kuttu" (nanny goat), or... The opportunities are endless.

sagrima

3 months ago

sagrima

3 months ago

luciusmistress

3 months ago

whswhs

May 30 2014, 19:06:01 UTC 3 months ago

Let us not forget English expressions such as "gee whillikers" or "jiminy crickets" (for "Jesus Christ") or "darned"/"tarnation" (for "damned"/"damnation"). American English has lots of expressions that evade taking the name of the Lord in vain by a technicality. . . .

philena

May 30 2014, 19:31:03 UTC 3 months ago

And many are charmingly archaic. Egad was probably once "a God," and "zounds" is etymologically from "God's wounds."

(All this from the OED.)

dieastra

June 2 2014, 07:21:21 UTC 3 months ago

I have a friend who lives in Sheffield, and she uses "Sheesh" quite often. I liked it so much that I have adopted it without ever knowing what it actually means, but I guess it is a form of "Jesus" as well?

sorrowis_stupid

3 months ago

muckefuck

May 30 2014, 19:29:44 UTC 3 months ago

In Irish, one of the most common expletives is diabhal "devil" (often pronounced as if spelled dial). This has spawned the euphemisms diach (which historically means "fate, punishment"; also diabhach), riach (cf. riabhach "brindled"), fiach ("raven"), and fial ("veil").

whswhs

May 30 2014, 19:38:01 UTC 3 months ago

I once read that there is an Italian swearword, diamine, which is a portmanteau of diablo and domino, "devil" and "God." I don't know if it's in current use.

Similarly, one of the traditional swears of stage Frenchmen was sacre bleu, "holy blue," which was a kenning for "holy sky/heaven," but also stood for sacre Dieu, "holy God."

muckefuck

3 months ago

tortipede

3 months ago

nike158

3 months ago

sleighlay

May 30 2014, 21:15:19 UTC 3 months ago

In Korean, the word for 18 is very very similar to the word for 'fuck'

씹힐 (sshibal) - fuck
시팔 (shipal) - eighteen

Also, the word for 'don't want/no' begins with a similiar sound, so I can see them all being potential pairs
싫어 (shiro) - don't want/no

garonne

May 31 2014, 20:05:57 UTC 3 months ago

Aha, interesting. So do people indeed actually say/write 'shipal' instead of 'sshibal'?

sleighlay

3 months ago

come_to_think

May 31 2014, 01:17:15 UTC 3 months ago

I myself am so contemptuous of euphemism that I damn my socks.

garonne

May 31 2014, 19:44:13 UTC 3 months ago

Ha, nice one!

Russian

sukina_docha

May 31 2014, 03:36:21 UTC 3 months ago Edited:  May 31 2014, 03:44:31 UTC

The word блин "blin" (pancake) is most popular "substitution" for блядь bl'ad' (cunt). The name of slavic letter Х "kher" is a swear word but not so strong as хуй "huy" (prick, fuck). Its derivatives make pairs херня-хуйня "khern'A-huyn'A" (nuts!,, unknown object, It is nothing; and many other expressions), херовый-хуёвый "kherOvyi-huyOvyi" (bad) and so on.
I like rare phrases ячменна кладь, клёвана гнездорань, кибиточная сила and I can not translate them to English properly

garonne

May 31 2014, 19:45:40 UTC 3 months ago

Very interesting. Sounds like precisely the kind of thing I was curious about, so thanks!

thekumquat

May 31 2014, 11:52:18 UTC 3 months ago

Children often use the expletives they hear, such as fiddlesticks! and flip!
British English is possibly more inventive than some other languages - merchant banker for wanker is now common, along with calling someone a See You Next Tuesday, used by people who would never use the full word.
Oddly, swear word replacements only seem to work as exclamations or nouns - I can't think of a minced oath that could be slotted into a sentence like "the fucking fucker's fucking fucked!" !
Cockney substitutions (two word rhyming phrase, but then only use the first word of the phrase) often end up much more innocuous in meaning rather than just politer - calling someone a berk is a mild insult, but it comes from Berkshire Hunt...
And Khyber Pass (arse) could be used for a film title: Carry On up the Khyber...

biascut

May 31 2014, 12:51:35 UTC 3 months ago

Oddly, swear word replacements only seem to work as exclamations or nouns - I can't think of a minced oath that could be slotted into a sentence like "the fucking fucker's fucking fucked!" !

Adjectives too - I use blooming, darn or darned, and flipping, and expect to me using them more of over the next few years as there are small people about!

I also regularly see people claiming that nobody says "Crikey" any more - apparently that's just me!

k425

3 months ago

vilakins

June 1 2014, 05:11:46 UTC 3 months ago

Oh, but I thought merchant banker and wanker were plain synonyms! ;-)

tristissima

May 31 2014, 18:54:01 UTC 3 months ago

I'm surprised no one has mentioned French's sacre Bleu! or (rarer nowadays) mon Bleu, both royally dictated replacements for sacre Dieu (holy God!) and mon Dieu (my God!) by a particularly religious king.

Who happened to have a dog named Bleu >.

mack_the_spoon

June 1 2014, 02:11:07 UTC 3 months ago

This is a fascinating discussion!

I don't think anyone's mentioned "freak", "frick", or "frig" yet, which can be used almost as flexibly as "f***": "My stupid freaking/fricking/frigging computer is still taking forever to load the freaking video!", etc.

orpheus_samhain

June 1 2014, 04:45:08 UTC 3 months ago

In Polish there is "jeju!" for "Jezu!" -- "(oh,) Jesus!", "pierwiastkować" instead of "pierdolić" (take/make roots//to fuck), "kurczę", or "kurde" for "kurwa" (chicken/???//whore literally, but used as English 'fuck').

lizvogel

June 2 2014, 16:04:40 UTC 3 months ago

"Fsck" is a common substitution for "fuck" in the IT world. (Computers are a different language than English, right?) Far as I know, it works for any part of speech (fsck, fscking, fscked...).

goluath

June 4 2014, 17:13:21 UTC 3 months ago

Jaysus (Jesus), feck and shite are all milder versions of swearwords, very common in Ireland. (at least I think 'feck' is meant to be a milder version of fuck? ) In Spanish some genteel folk say 'miércoles' instead of 'mierda' (Wednesday/shit). Very rare though, but I think it's sweet.