Holy… what?

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Professor Smith wrote in an earlier blog about the utilization of “I swan” in order to avoid using a stronger oath. His blog left me thinking what phrases I use in order to avoid committing a social error. The only thing that I could come up with is the somewhat trite “holy cow!” Perhaps it is redeemed by the fact that it possibly stems from Hinduism, but it still produces snickers from my peers when I inadvertently say it in a moment of surprise. I am again surprised by their laughter. I always thought of it as a common expression. But it seems that as we grow older the swear words become more common and the polite cover-ups less so. Curse words don’t seem to be nearly as shocking as a simple “holy cow” or “oh my gosh!” in everyday language.

And yet, when we see the curse word written on a page, we are shocked by it. Why? Why is the transformation from spoken word to written such a jump? I admit that I’m guilty of it. I’m offended by it in a way that I would never be if someone said it in casual conversation. Perhaps it is because the spoken swear word is fleeting and transient and the written word is permanent, there for the entire world to see.

So what are your thoughts? Are you like me and feel that there is a difference between  written swear words and spoken ones? Or do you think that there’s no difference at all?

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3 Responses to Holy… what?

  1. Andrea Siso says:

    I hadn’t started using swear words until I “caught” them (yes, they’re contagious) from my group of friends, who would only consider putting the words “holy” and “cow” together in a sentence if they sandwiched a curse. Oddly enough, my friends noticed that my voice dips each time I used one–as if my body rejects foul language, naturally.
    When curse words are slammed onto paper, they gain a finality that spoken words never could. They have longer lifespans and are markedly visible, contrary to words that hang in the air–as they can easily disappear.
    Interesting blogpost!

  2. Lauren Starnes says:

    I went to an all girl’s high school, which had rather strict conduct rules. We were not allowed to chew gum and we were definitely not supposed to use swear words. However, we read many novels that contained swear words such as Catcher in the Rye and All the King’s Men. I guess I have become accustomed to seeing swear words used in novels or poetry, but I will never cease to be taken aback when Professors say swear words. For some reason hearing the occasional “f-bomb” or other expletive escape my professor’s mouth always catches me off guard!

  3. Tim McAleenan says:

    I’m fortunate in that my language usually reflects the company I’m with. The only time I’ll let out an occasional “Damn” or “Shit” in front of a teacher is if I stub my toe or do something involuntary to that effect. I think that our reaction to cussing (or the lack thereof) correlates to our expectations of the person. If someone we regularly expect to cuss shouts out, “Gee! Fish sticks!” or “Aww! Barnacles!” then we might react because we do not expect such puerile Rated PG exclamations from the person. However, if a professor said, “God damn it! What’s wrong with those f*ckin’ people at the bookstore???” then we would have a reaction, because it mismatches our expectations.

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