Alternative Swear Words in American English

Posted on 03. Apr, 2012 by in Culture, English Language, English Vocabulary

Over the last few posts I have been addressing the use of swear words in American English.  While writing these post a phrase my mother used to say when I was younger kept popping into my head.  When I was in elementary school, an age when one really starts being exposed to swear words as they are whispered back-and-forth between giggles on the playground,  my mother used to say: “People who swear are just showing what a poor English vocabulary they have.  There are so many ways to say what you want to say without having to swear.”  As much as I hate to admit it, she is right!  There are far, far more alternative or substitute swear words (or phrases) in English than there are actual swear words.  Often these substitute swear words are phonetically related to common swear words (usually to the first sound of the swear word), but some of these substitute swear words are just random phrases that have over time become a “polite” way to swear.  Many of these words are both funny to hear and to say!  Most English speakers use alternative swear words in polite company (i.e. at work, around children and elders, around strangers or people one doesn’t know, etc.) so if you want to learn English, learning these words is important because they will come up often.

I have arranged a few lists of alternative swear words in English for you below in the following way.  First, I have listed the alternative swear words that are phonetically related to real swear words.  Second, I have listed some juvenile swear word or words one most often hears young children using before they have learned real swear words.  These tend to be very mild forms of swear words.  Third, I have lists some older swear word substitutions.  These are the types of expletives you might hear your grandmother say.  Lastly, I have listed some other common expletive substitutes that are common, but that don’t make a whole lot of sense.  If you pay attention I bet you will hear at least one of these words in the next American movie or TV show you watch.  They are that common.

Phonetic substitution swear words:
d*mn = darn
cr*p = crikey, crpity-cr@p
sh*t, = shot, sugar, shucks, sheesh, ship
f**k = f-ing, fudge, frickin’
Jesus = geez
Jesus Christ = Jiminy Crickit
h*ll = heck
s*n of a b*tch = son of a biscuit, son of a gun

Juvenile swear words:
poo
poop
butt

Elder swear words:
oh dear
holy moly
jeepers
good heavens
gosh
fiddlesticks
poppycock
geez louise

Other swear word substitutes:
cheese or cheese and crackers
dag nab it

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About gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after I completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.

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