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ALTERNATIVE EXPLITIVES FOR THE F WORD

 
 
Sglass
 
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 02:32 am
Phwoar!
When everyday expletives aren’t good enough
Oxford University Press has just published the third edition of “The F-Word” - 270 pages investigating every possible combination, situation, and divagation in which the most notorious expletive in English can be found. For a word that can’t be printed in most newspapers, it’s certainly leading a rich, full life.

But it’s not the only interjection out there. Though the F-word and its handful of banned cousins get all the attention, the history of English presents us with a host of other great words that you can use if the F-word feels too obscene or too repetitive or just too last-year.

Expressive as the F-word is, its shock value can drown out other nuance. For instance, it doesn’t give you the pleasantly wide-eyed, gee-whiz Americana tone you get with interjections like heck, nerts, dagnabbit, hot diggety, (or for added zip, hot diggety dog or hot ziggety damn), jeepers, hully gee, and so on. If you want an even older-fashioned, apron-tossing flavor, the language offers gramercy, lawks, lovanenty, or lassy me (all of which express surprise).

If you want at least a bit of shock with your expressions of frustration and annoyance without the full-on slap of the F-word, borrow bollocks or bugger from the Brits, or buggeration or even murderation (that last possibly from the tendency to shout “murder” as an all-purpose attention-getter, like “help” and “fire”).

If you prefer blasphemy as your shock, you aren’t limited to various invocations of the Lord’s name - there’s also byrlady (a mishmash of “by our lady”), diable “devil,” depardieu (yes, like the actor, and which means “by god!”), or the mild-sounding but drastic jernie (from the French for “I renounce God”).

Although the F-word is found in every place English is spoken, other interjections maintain a regional flavor. Blimey is so British as to be nearly a parody of Britishness; ditto lovely jubbly (used to express a delight in good luck or good things), and the enthusiastic and appreciative phwoar, often used when encountering exceedingly attractive people. Dicken is used in Australia and New Zealand to express disbelief or disgust; on the other end of the spectrum (and in another part of the world, South Asia) there’s zindabad, used to express encouragement.

English has borrowed interjections from the French as well - the familiar merde; but also parbleu (expressing surprise), the truly evocative mille tonnerres (a thousand thunderclaps), and the more pedestrian morbleu (both expressing annoyance).

Now that most of us don’t rely on animals for our livelihood and transportation, we’re no longer using the interjections that apply to them - like the hooshtah that “encourages” camels; the hoy to drive hogs and the hyke that sends dogs off to the chase (as if they needed the encouragement). Gip expresses anger to a horse (or, when addressed to a person, is a Seinfeldian Elaine Benes-style “get out!”). Even the most unencouragable of animals, the donkey (think Eeyore) has one: proot, which supposedly makes a donkey move faster, or at least makes you feel as if you’re doing something.

Although Anglo-Saxon monosyllables can certainly be satisfying, there are other interjections that are more fun to say: try mackins or yowzer (both used for confirmation or approbation) or mafeesh and napoo, which both mean “done for” (and which were ushered into English by the British army). Or oh scrimmy (used by Edwardian-era children expressing astonishment, says the Oxford English Dictionary). Plus there are all the great reduplicative interjections, like hurry-durry (to express impatience), tilly-vally (nonsense), and tisty-tosty (expressing triumph). In fact, although F is a perfectly pleasant letter, it doesn’t have the zing of Z, the zing that livens up Z interjections like zoodikers, zoonters, zowie, zounds, and zookers (plus gadzooks and adzooks).

One major shortcoming of the F-word is that - even delivered slowly - it can be a bit too aggressive to express sadness and grief. Luckily we have welladay and wellaway; helas, the Irish mavrone, ullagone, and the Joycean ochone; and otototoi, from ancient Greek. If that outpouring of grief has moved you, even the longest-drawn-out F-word isn’t as good as poveretto, an expression of sympathy we swiped from Italian.

Even this long list doesn’t include all the truly odd interjections that lurk in the corners of the big dictionaries, like bedeen (which the Century Dictionary etymologizes as “often a mere expletive” and glosses as “Forthwith, straightaway”), hissa (in the OED as “a cry used on ship-board in hauling or hoisting), iggri (“hurry up”), and fludgs, which may (or may not) mean “quick!”

So the next time you hear someone utter an original exclamation, something other than the old four-letter standbys, you’ll know what to do: Clap them on the back and cry, as Kipling’s Kim would have done, “shabash!” - well done!

E-mail Erin McKean at [email protected]. For past columns, go to www.boston.com/ideas.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.
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Type: Question • Score: 8 • Views: 4,395 • Replies: 25
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roger
 
  2  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 02:58 am
@Sglass,
Oh? One of my favorite alternatives is scrozzeled. When someone has just had their way with us again, we just might say "Scrozzeled again!"
roger
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 02:59 am
@roger,
Not to be confused with scrod, of course. You say "Go get scrod", you're sending someone out for a type of fish.
Sglass
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 03:01 am
@roger,
Ok, I'll do it just for the hallibut.
roger
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 03:05 am
@Sglass,
Just for the hallibut, imagine a new car dealership advertising "Free tarbot with every new car purchase". That one has always been a head scratcher.
Sglass
 
  2  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 03:22 am
@roger,
Has it left you floundering?
roger
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 04:20 am
@Sglass,
Perched on the edge of my seat, trying to find the connection.
Francis
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 04:26 am
@roger,
You seem a little fishy, in that plaice...
roger
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 04:31 am
@Francis,
Un un. Just a bit hard of herring.
Francis
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 04:33 am
@roger,
Probably a red one..
Sglass
 
  2  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 05:23 am
@Francis,
I woke up a bit eel this morning.
Ceili
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 07:37 am
I suggest MEEP.
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 07:41 am
@Ceili,
Ceili wrote:

I suggest MEEP.

Darn, you beat me to it!
Ceili
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 07:43 am
@engineer,
Very Happy
devriesj
 
  2  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 10:26 am
@Ceili,
Well on the subject, you fish punny guys ... With a teen and a pre-teen in the house, I just prefer not to hear four letter words out of their mouths so, we have come up with a bunch of 'em through time!Call me a prude, but I don't even really like to hear them say "frick" or an other close euphemism for a swear word. (Ok, so I'm a prude! That's not to say I don't let 'em fly.)
I know some come from movies, but hey...
It's definitely not an exhaustive list!:
One of my favorites comes from a friend of hubby's - shpoot
Son of a hamster
" " " nutcracker
" " " batch a' cookies
holy flagnod! or what the flagnod!
mother of pearl!...

And last but not least, when I get made and am trying desperately not to let the 'big ones' fly, I come out with some sort of gibberish that has come to resemble arabic! Razz
Linkat
 
  2  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 10:41 am
@engineer,
Me too since I started the Meep fad (well at least here)
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 10:42 am
I like to say tatersauce - thank you sponge bob for giving me that word - barnacles also works nicely.

I stopped using fudge as my daughter copied me once and it sounded too close to the actual original word.
0 Replies
 
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 10:43 am
@roger,
I like scrod. Perfect fodder for fish and chips! Smile
Merry Andrew
 
  2  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 11:30 am
@devriesj,
I once knew a person who, during any animated conversation would suddenly shout "Will you shut the f... front door?!" Very effective. People would hold their breaths just prior to 'front door', fully expecting the usual, proscribed word. It not only shut everyone up but the humor usually helped change the subject.
0 Replies
 
Sglass
 
  1  
Reply Mon 16 Nov, 2009 11:30 am
@tsarstepan,
no modder fodder
0 Replies
 
 

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