You Don’t Say

While English is the only language I speak, I have done a lot of study of other languages where words or phrases have entered ours.  English is, at the same time, a complex language, and yet dead simple.  I prize it for the fact that, with some study and understanding, it is capable of producing subtly nuanced meanings.

An American politician in the late 1800s stated that there should be no dictionaries, because no two words in the language mean exactly the same thing.  I have heard and read people who ask, Why are there so many synonyms in English?  The answer is that there are a range of words which allow the user to choose the exactly desired meaning.  The right word, and the almost-right word are not the same thing.  As Mark Twain explained, “There’s a mighty difference between lightning, and a lightning-bug.”

Interestingly, (to me) the language also has a whole range of words which allow the timid to not say exactly what they mean.  Many Muslims will not write the name Allah, because they then have to respectfully get rid of the paper it was written on.  Burning it while praying is the accepted practice.  So too, many Jews will not write the Hebrew word for Yahweh, or even the English word God, for the same reason.  Many people, non-Jews included, write only G*d, thus escaping the ritual.

While respect for God, and the name of God, is admirable, it is a man-directed mental state.  The Biblical commandment is to “Not take the name of God in vain.”  This actually means not to bug God with trivial stuff, or ask for things you don’t really deserve….in other words, most prayer.

Reticent speakers/writers use a wide range of euphemisms, expressions which state clearly what is intended, while pussyfooting around actually saying something which often isn’t really offensive.  The first time I ran into it was in a “Tammy” movie, in the late 50s.  Sandra Dee, playing Tammy, had something go poorly, and firmly stated *Amsterdam!*  Amsterdam? queried her rooming house hostess.  “Yes, and Rotterdam, and all them other damns!”   So she’d clearly pronounced the word, and everyone knew what she meant, but she hadn’t really said it.

Many of the strange Britishisms that you may have run into, center on not saying God.  Egad refers to (the) God.  Gadzooks were God’s hooks, which he used to create the Universe.  Od’s bodkin was God’s bodkin, a spike-like fabricating tool, used to create….  By Jove is just the use of the name of a god believed not to exist, in place of the name of the one believed to exist.

The Australian, strooth, is a reference to “His truth.”  Bleeding and bloody both refer to Christ, on the cross.  The Cockney, cor blimey, started as the expression, “God blind me, for I am not worthy of seeing Your glory.”

Since it is God who would have to do it, many folks also have trouble with the word, Damn.  Dash it all, darn it, and dang, often fill in.  It’s a little dated, but even dagnabit is still uttered occasionally.  Gosh, taken from the Bible, Land of Goshen, often takes the place of the name of God, gosh-durn, gosh-darn and gosh-dang.  The prefix –gol produces the same I-didn’t-say-it effect, with gol-durn, gol-darn and gol-dang.

Dr. Spooner had a speech defect which had him inverting the initial sounds of following words.  For him, a shining wit was actually a whining shit.  Doc Spooner’s inversions are used to bring us Yosemite Sam’s “Dag-gummed”.  Reversing that reversal quickly shows what the Hays Commission wouldn’t let our little cartoon character say.

You can shoot the shit, unless you can’t face saying it.  Then you just leave out the s**t, and say, Oh shoot, or shucks.  My father described the verbally repressed by, “Wouldn’t say shit, if he had a mouthful.”  The first words you learn in another language are often the profanities.  When I was in the Adult Education, with accent on Adult, one of the English-speaking men came out with “scheisse”, German for shit.  A younger, German-speaking female shockedly asked, “Does he know what that means?”  I would imagine he does, although, in an English-speaking class, that’s another euphemism.

The concept of sexual intercourse is another whose solid, Anglo-Saxon descriptor is often replaced, in *polite* conversation.  You’re big kids.  You know what I’m talking about.  Because of a bureaucratic mix-up, a local single mother and her five-year-old son spent a cold weekend when their delivery of fuel-oil didn’t arrive till Monday.  She managed to get some warmth from the stove and an electrical heater, but was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “It was frigging cold.”

Some blue-nosed Bible-thumper complained that the paper had printed that word, especially on the front page, “Because we all know what that word really means”.  You damned, strait-laced fool, that’s what euphemisms are for.  Frigging actually has a dictionary value of, “meaningless intensifier”, unlike similar words like fricking, freaking and fracking.

So, to those of you without the intestinal fortitude to call a spade a spade, or who are surrounded by audiences full of sensitive ears and feelings, you can be happy that you have a language which allows you to use speech so tactful, that you can tell some asshole to go to hell in such a nice way that he’ll welcome the trip and enjoy the stay when he gets there.

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18 thoughts on “You Don’t Say

  1. BrainRants says:

    I’ll add that “zounds” is also Old English for ‘God’s Wounds’ … of course blurred phonetically. No idea where I read that. Just part of the useless shit that blows around the inside of my otherwise empty head.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      50 points for the gentleman still wearing desert camo. Zounds was on my mental list, but apparently leaked out of my also obviously empty head. “His wounds”, or “Christ’s wounds”, unless you’re a non-Catholic Christian who believes God and Christ were/are the same entity. 😕

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  2. Sightsnbytes says:

    If the world worked half as hard trying to prove there is a God compared to the way they work to prove he doesn’t exist, the true meaning of God would be established.
    Thank God! Oh My God! God Bless You, God Darned!….all God references used by those who doubt his existence.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      Hardly anyone thinks about what they actually say. The few who do often intentionally use religious references to appear to fit in and reduce the negative judgements and harassment. I’ve got another don’t-think post coming up. 🙂

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      • Jim Wheeler says:

        Good post, Archon, and you’re surely right about few really thinking about their choices of words. One particular affectation in the common lingo has always bothered me in that regard. It is using a modifier to soften an absolute or a superlative, as in “a little crazy”, or, “a bit of a disaster”, or, “I’m a tad shocked”, or, “that’s rather amazing”. Such usage leaves a very squishy meaning in its wake. I wish I could think of more examples because they are legion. I will, right after I hit “Enter”. 😆

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      • Archon's Den says:

        I feel your pain. This is often done by bureaucratic types who want to say something but, like Tammy, don’t want to actually say it. I do offer a little wiggle room. The most unique used to bother me. All the people dressed in the weird costumes, trying to get on Let’s Make a Deal are different from each other, and greatly so from the ordinary audience, but the guy with the melting ice cream cone on his head is the most unique. 🙂

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  3. Kayjai says:

    I obviously have no time nor inclination for ‘pussy-footing’ around it. When I say fuck, I mean it…same with all that other shit. See? I clearly warn peeps of my adoration for the technical terms of swearing…my old Catholic ways have decidedly gone out the window. Probs a good thing.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      Welcome back KAYJAI!!! 😀 Nice picture. The sun shines from the east. Yeah, we all know about you and the fucking Catholic Church. I hope this change signals a difference/improvement in your employment situation.

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      • Kayjai says:

        Ummm…more like I’m feeling I’m on a sinking ship, but I figured I hid long enough. Besides, I didn’t really do anything terribly wrong…so, what the fuck, right? Yeah.

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  4. Kayjai says:

    Oh! Tell Mrs. Ladybug a Happy Mother’s Day for me. I hope you baked her cookies…or something yummy.

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  5. Archon's Den says:

    The Lady who Bugs me sends a thankyou for the Mother’s Day wish, and returns one back to you, if it’s not already too late in the stormy Atlantic. We had croissants and crab-apple jelly in bed for brunch – at 2 PM. Chocolate-mayonnaise cake with raspberry sauce planned for supper, once we push the son out of bed to help. 😆

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  6. First off, pass along a Happy Mother’s Day to my gramma, okay? 😉
    Second, my sore spot is “Render unto God”, that has somehow become an order for people to thank God for every little thing. All it means is to respect God and deal with him properly in matters spiritual, and respect and deal properly with Caeser (the state) in all “earthly” matters.
    Then again, like you said, the phrases are most often used by those who don’t understand them. Buncha bloddy friggin’ idiots! 😀

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    • Archon's Den says:

      The bag of frozen raspberries we bought yesterday thawed out to sour cherries. Gramma says she’ll send you a picture of the Black Forest cake you’re missing. Religion-wise, they’re all mindless goofs, except you and me….and Rants….and Kayjai….and I’ll be signing off for now. 😉

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  7. aFrankAngle says:

    Dagnabbit … wasn’t that Elmer Fudd? … Ooops … that was dangrabbit.

    You are obviously an etymology enthusiast. This video remains a classic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rX7-R54-Q8

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  8. Daniel Digby says:

    I’m shocked and appalled that you would say something like “shining wit”.

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  9. […] surname of Bodkin, so rare that the surname website doesn’t even list it.  In my May 12/13 post, You Don’t Say, I explained that a bodkin is a pointed tool, somewhat like a naval marlin spike, used to work on […]

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  10. […] my You Don’t Say post, I wrote of timid linguists who won’t say or write things they regard as “swear words.” […]

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