16 Expletives We Should Definitely Bring Back
Some words are just perfect for shouting out in exasperation. These oldies will make you feel better the moment they pass your lips.
This one got a little play in the 18th century as a minced oath—a swear that was modified to avoid being offensive. It’s a further mincing of zounds, which was itself a mincing of “his wounds,” as in Christ’s. Keep it handy in case you stub your toe in church.
If zoonters is pushing it too close to the edge of blasphemy, just cut it down by a few more sounds. Oons was another minced oath formed off zounds.
Much in the way that familiar forms like dagnabbit and doggone are ways to avoid saying God damn it! and God damned!, dodgast takes on the burden of God blast it! and makes it safe for children.
Yet another obsolete way to get the satisfaction of a swear without the taking of the Lord’s name in vain, this minced oath from the 17th century stands in for oh God. Its sibling egad! survived longer.
This one is a creative mashup of Christ! and heavens! It’s put to good use in this line from the 1935 book Shipbuilders: “Holy crivens, I nearly broke my flakin’ back.”
6. I SNORE!
Once you go a little bit out of your way to avoid some blasphemy, no reason not to keep going even further. The exclamation I snore! was an early American way to avoid even saying the word swear. In 1790, the Massachusetts Spy reported that “in one village you will hear the phrase ‘I snore,’—in another, ‘I swowgar.’”
7. BY SNUM!
If snore or swowgar isn’t far enough from offensive for you, there’s also snum. Snum came from vum, which itself came from vow.
Not to be confused with beer lady!, this one was formed from “by our lady.”
You’ve probably heard of drat! And rats! They started as God rot!, but before that, it was rendered as rabbit—as in “Rabbit the fellow!” from Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews.
10. WHAT THE RATTLE!?
There’s only one citation for this one in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s a good one, from 1790: “But what the rattle makes you look so tarnation glum?”
11. BONES OF ME!
This 16th century exclamation could show up as bones of me! or bones of you! The bones are the part of the body with the most staying power after death, so the expression has a force akin to “over my dead body” without the “don’t you dare” part.
12. GOOD LACK!
In addition to good God! And good heavens! There was good lack! Related to alack! and a sense of lack meaning fault or moral failing. It was used to express dismay at a state of affairs.
An exclamation of shock and surprise, it’s probably from the phrase Lord defend thee. It also showed up as lockanties, lockintee, and lokins in Scotland.
14. MEGSTIE ME!
Another expression of surprise, it might be related to mighty. Other forms were megsty, maiginty, and megginstie, or meggins for short.
15. STAP MY VITALS!
This one probably started with Lord Foppington, a character in the 1697 comedy Relapse, who had a problem with pronouncing o as a.
An obsolete exhortation to drink, this was a jokey combination of Latin and German. There was a German phrase auf den Nagel trinken or “drink to the nail,” meaning “drain your glass to the last drop.” Naculum was a play on what Nagel would sound like in Latin. Add super- or “over” to it and you’ve got supernaculum, which you can cry out as you turn your glass over to show you’ve chugged it all.