Monday, June 23, 2014

Substitute curses

We always knew when he banged himself, since any blow was announced by a long, dragged out cry of "Jaanneey Maaac!" ("Janey Mac" is an Irish euphemism for the Lord's name that dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. It's used in order not to take His name in vain. Unaware of this at time, I thought Janey Mac might be a relative.)
Tim Conway, What's So Funny?

Most of us feel compelled to yell something when things go badly, as Tim Conway remembers his father doing when he hit his head on the low basement ceiling in the family home in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. In most cases, it seems, what we yell is either something profane or vulgar, or a euphemistic substitute for something profane or vulgar. I had never heard of Janey Mac as a substitute, but I've heard plenty of others, as have you. Some of them, like golly, gosh, gee, shucks, shoot, Jiminy Cricket, good grief, darn and doggone seem childishly innocent, although I once had a pastor who insisted such expressions were as commandment-breaking as the ones they replace. I heard him use one of them himself, however, and in church yet.

W.C. Fields is famous for his oath "Godfrey Daniel!" in one of his movies. Here are a few other creative euphemisms: gollydingwhiz, gosh-all-hemlock, by-guess-and-by-gosh, gadzooks, grabs, goshwalader, good gravy, good gracious to Betsy, jeezy peezy, for crying out loud and geewhillikins, among hundred of others.

When you bang your head, hit your finger with a hammer or drop a raw egg, you probably don't have time to think about what you are going to say. Usually you just say it and then, if necessary, apologize afterward. Mostly we just say whatever we are in the habit of saying in such circumstances. I have long tried to form the habit of emulating one of my fictional heroes, Winnie-the-Pooh, who says, "Oh, bother!" in times of stress. That seems so proper and so British and so Poo-like that just saying it makes me feel better. And I don't think even my former pastor would be offended.

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