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minced oath


minced oath

Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English by Geoffrey Hughes (Blackwell, 1991)


A moderate form of swearing: a type of euphemism in which a profane or offensive term is replaced by a similar-sounding word or phrase that expresses a comparable sentiment in a less objectionable way, such as substituting "heck" for "hell" or "son of a gun" for "son of a bitch."

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • Bart: We're just gonna let him die?
    Marge: Bart, I know you're upset . . .
    Bart: Darn right I'm upset!
    Marge: Bart, watch your language! Oh--you did.
    ("Dog of Death." The Simpsons, 1992)

  • "Virtually all swear-words generate disguised variants. The stronger the taboo, the greater the number of evading forms . . .. Polite evasions of bloody (a comparatively recent swear-word borrowed about three centuries ago from underworld slang) are, variously, ruddy, blooming, and the truncated b, as in 'the b thing won't work!' . . .

    "A spectacular series of Elizabethan minced oaths . . . occurred in response to the Puritan injunctions against Profanity on the Stage. Within a few years the name of God had been so successfully apostrophized that it was barely recognizable in the mangled form 'sfoot!' and 'snails!' and 'zounds!' for (respectively) 'God's foot!', 'God's nails!' and 'God's wounds!' The truncation effectively blocked understanding of the forms, so that within a few generations zounds! was being pronounced 'zaunds!'

    "These mutilated and abbreviated alternatives are called upon whenever uttering the word in question would be a breach of decorum, in the view of the speaker."
    (Geoffrey Hughes, Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English. Blackwell, 1991)

  • Mincing Bark's Adjectives
    "Bark's parts of speech are of an awful sort--principally adjectives. I won't, says Bark, have no adjective police and adjective strangers in my adjective premises! I won't, by adjective and substantive! Give me my trousers, and I'll send the whole adjective police to adjective and substantive! Give me, says Bark, my adjective trousers! I'll put an adjective knife in the whole bileing of 'em. I'll punch their adjective heads. I'll rip up their adjective substantives. Give me my adjective trousers! says Bark, and I'll spile the bileing of 'em!"
    (Charles Dickens, "On Duty With Inspector Field." Reprinted Pieces, 1861)

  • "I earnestly advise you to shun all little minced oaths, such as 'by Jove,' 'by George,' 'good-gracious.' Love pure, sweet, simple Saxon, and avoid everything that seems to unhallow or dishallow God's name or make it hollow."
    (Martha Tarbell, Tarbell's Teacher's Guide to the International Sunday-School Lessons for 1907. Bobbs-Merrill, 1906)
Also Known As: disguised variants, disguise mechanism, pseudo-profanity
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