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Alternatives to effing

'Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.' Mark Twain

Swearing is usually ace. But there are times when effing and blinding just won’t work, such as:

  • Improvising a bedtime story for your niece and/or nephew (we really should make up a collective term for them).

  • Entertaining an octogenarian.

  • In a silent, echoey place of worship.

  • When you want to emphasise in a surprising way.

Ubiquity has reduced expletives' shock value, and made them a little less useful.

I’ve started collecting words that already have a job to do but, given the chance, can moonlight as exclamations. They aren’t blasphemous, or anatomical, sexual etc, but they sound like they might be. My criteria for the words are:

  • Feel a bit rude, taste a bit salty, though they aren’t when I think about it.

  • Satisfying to shout.

  • Made of consonants that blow out candles.

  • Make me giggle.

Some of them I’ve noticed in everyday usage, others I found in wordbooks – I can’t resist giving underused terms an outing.

'The urge to shout filthy words at the top of his voice was as strong as ever.' George Orwell

I present the collection so far. Try them for yourself. They work best shouted, although I find muttering a few in a row almost as gratifying. Please insert your own exclamation marks (too many make me itch).

Boggart a hobgoblin

Bladderwrack sea weed

Cicatrix a mark or scar left after a wound has healed

Clapperclaw to scratch, drub or revile

Clinker a brick

Cockernony hair gathered in a snood

Cranch grind with a crushing sound (unless you're a Scanner living in vain)





Cuthbert a person in a cushy job

Dabchick little grebe

Davenport a small writing desk

Dawplucker synonym for libeller

Ditty-bag a sailor’s bag for needles

Funk-hole a cushy job for a Cuthbert

Gleek an enticing glance

Gossoon a boy

Gussets (I prefer the plural)

Jackanape a pert fellow

Muckworm a miser

Krummhorn a wind instrument


Pinnywinkles a very pretty name for a thumbscrew

Saucebox an impudent person

Shandygaff a mixture of beer and ginger beer

Shram cause to shrink


Woolsack a wool cushion

If you’ve shouted a few of those, I hope you’re now feeling especially jolly.

I bet there's some corkers I haven't found yet, and I haven’t even started on place-names. Do you have any candidates?

The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest is just a fucking lunatic. Stephen Fry

A footnote on sci fi swearing

Science fiction provides made-up curses for all occasions, which even have their own Wikipedia entry. You may wish to know that, according The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the worst swearword in the universe is Belgium.

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