Exclamations & Expletives

Jean-Paul , a Bright in Ontario, Canada, asked other Brights for counsel on the following issue:

 “Interjections that we all use like God, Oh my God, Heavens, Heavens Above, Hell, Go to Hell, Christ, Jesus Christ, and their insufficiently secular equivalents Gosh, Jeepers, Jeepers Creepers, Heck, etc. These seem to be so ingrained in the language (and not just English) that I find it almost impossible to rid myself of them. Any suggestions?”

Note: After Brights Central first conveyed the request, some Brights wrote in to say they had indeed found ways to rid themselves of using such interjections (usually with practice). Others felt such an effort unnecessary or worse. The following is a sampling to show the diversity in the thinking of respondents.

I just use regular old profanity [maybe because I'm from New Jersey :-)

Stephen (New Jersey, USA)

Another, perhaps more constructive(?) approach taking place in New Jersey:

I've just started to say "Thank the Big Bang" when others might say "Thank God".

Ralph (New Jersey, USA)

…[C]hoose other expressions for swearing, and practice them a bit. It’s amazing how easily we can replace habits as opposed to quitting them…

Depending on my mood and the situation, I use:

"Praise evolution!"

"Thank natural selection!" 

"Mother Earth!"

"Haley's Comet!"; "Gushing geyser" (Any natural wonder will do.)

"Creeping Charlie!" "Poison Parsnip!" (Any natural annoyance and consonance will do!)

"Go find a black hole and crawl in it!"

"Oh, go to North Korea!" (Because it was voted the worst place on earth.)

Stephanie (Wisconsin, USA)

Why would you want not to use "Oh my God" or "Heavens above"?

It is not the words themselves but the meaning you personally place upon them. I feel that if the words are not an expression of your faith, beliefs, etc., then nothing is wrong.

Just because you don't smoke does not mean you should never use the words "tobacco" "cigar" "cigarette" "ashtray".

Beware of fundamentalism in any form it is always ugly 

David (Belgium)

"Oh my dog!" always pops out easily (same letters, and at least makes me smile.)

Cecilia (New Zealand)

I read the following a few years ago and decided to consciously substitute "Thank Goodness" wherever appropriate. Now it has become quite natural.


Michael (Massachusetts, USA)

I've been going through a similar dilemma [to] Jean-Paul, though my problem deals with the Portuguese language, since I'm Brazilian.

The worst is when I want to express delight for an event, such as in "thank God", but I don't wanna thank something I don't believe in.

A friend of mine says "just say it, even if you don't believe it; it's just an expression", but I disagree. So I started saying something like "well done!", and I feel better this way…

Maíra (Brazil)

I had the same problem and have had success with the interjection:

"Expletive Deleted"

Paul (Colorado, USA)

It is commonplace to refer to past events and places to convey imagery in conversation. A person said to be having an "Alamo" or crossing a "Rubicon" conveys concepts of human crisis. It does not mean I wish to fight the Mexican Army or act as a Roman invader.

In everyday speech we enjoy embellishing our language referring to "four square meals a day", "fighting to the bitter end, or "freezing the balls of a brass monkey". All of which are naval terms (more specifically, British naval terms from the 1800's, when that nation was empire building and engaged in many atrocities throughout the world).

It has become acceptable to use many terms without worrying about the historical significance that created them. I acknowledge that certain terms do lie "beyond the pale". Those that have racial and sexual violence overtones deserve to be purged from our daily lexicon.

[On] the point of using expressions with religious origins. I find that I do not need to make an effort not to use them. I do not believe in higher powers and thus I do not have such thoughts at the forefront of my mind.

That said, there are some religious terms that amuse me and convey a message. Saying to a friend offering another slice of cake "get thee behind me..." is merely a playful use of language.

Ronan (Ireland)

Human languages aren't computer languages: the meanings of words and phrases are often not direct or literal. Saying "oh my god" obviously doesn't necessarily mean you believe in god, just as saying "you're welcome" doesn't necessarily mean you're actually welcoming someone somewhere, and saying "I'm dying to meet her" doesn't mean you're actually dying.

A big part of our cultural heritage is interwoven with and enriched by stories and ideas from the bible, from tales such as Hans Christian Andersen's, from fantasy and science fiction, which we can embrace, allowing them to provide us with context, metaphor, allegory, vocabulary etc., without us having to believe in the actual existence of god, mermaids, mad hatters or Yoda. There's no reason we should we feel uncomfortable with phrases enriching our language, providing us with a larger range of emotional expression and imagery, just because they contain a "god" or a "jesus".

Dan (Germany)

I find myself saying “Wow” a lot. That is about the only interjection I have found as of yet that doesn't have a religious origin. Various curse words do not have religious origins either. However, I do not recommend using these, especially depending on the situation. I would love to be forwarded the responses to this question because I have struggled with the same issue.

Adam (Nebraska, USA)

What is the best thing to say when you feel angry, annoyed, irritated, displeased etc.? How about just voicing the feeling you have?

E.g.: Oh grief; oh strife; oh no; oh bother; oh fury; oh help

How annoying; how maddening; how frustrating

Or just,

“Frustrating, that I forgot that'”; “'maddening that I broke that”; “'stress”

“This is so exasperating”; “this is driving me ballistic”

“I'm fuming mad about that”; “I'm effervescently furious about that”; 'I'm fizzing with rage”

[more similar examples]

I have been planning to say the above for years. My experience is that it takes a lot of effort; not everyone would consider it worth the effort. There are more important things to think about to be on the ball and get the job done. On one hand it doesn't really matter but it is an interesting direction to head in. I find it an interesting project to see if I can reprogramme myself. I think unless you were brought up with these sayings from toddler it could be difficult to programe them to be the first thing you say…   It might not be desirable to speak too differently from those around you…

James (United Kingdom)

There is no mystery to cussing without piety.

"Oh, crap!"

"Oh, shit!"


Any other such questions?

Jonathan (New York, USA)

 I have some suggestions. Even they might seem funny or some kind of "scientific devotion" the irony suits religious view pretty well.

 "Praise Einstein, "Almighty Dawkins". "Hell" could be somewhat exchanged for "entropy". "God" could be (and the irony is perfect) exchanged for Darwin. 

Of course I'm joking, and most of the ideas could not be properly used in everyday language, but as Dawkins and Hitchens said before, irony is our biggest weapon. Using scientific terms would be weird but I'm sure using it the right way, in the right sentence, would raise the interest in science and even start an education that could bring many religious people to a sudden perception about the functioning of the Universe.   

Lucas (Brazil)

I stopped using these interjections completely (it was never a habit to use them). But I think it is important stop using them, because it's not only ridiculous but also embarrassing. I use the name of God only when denying His existence. Any other use is just not possible with a sober brain. It's just a word I know used by the others...

Jochen (Namibia)

Some suggestions for fellow Brights. (Try to use it consciously…)

 * For God's sake: FOR NATURE'S SAKE

* Oh my God: OH MY, OH MY

* Jesus Christ: CHARLES D.  (Darwin)

William (Singapore)

When you are using interjections like “O God” or “O Jesus,” think about your beloved mother or father and say, “O my mother” (or “O father”).

Practice it. I think you can do it since your name is only one word short of Jean Paul Sartre!!

G P (India)

I am not comfortable saying "God bless you" when someone sneezes.  But I am equally uncomfortable just letting the silence hang in the air.  So when my girlfriend sneezed one day I just substituted "You're the best!" instead of "God bless you." 


It became our thing to say to each other and one day I heard her son and daughter (ages twelve and ten) using the phrase as well! 


We all think it's great.  It's reaffirming and humorous, all at the same time!

David (Pennsylvania, USA)



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