Grammar

What’s a Minced Oath? It’s Time to Learn!

February 26th is also known as ‘For Pete’s Sake Day,’ an annual, though not well-known event to celebrate the minced oath.

The phrase, “For Pete’s Sake” is an example of a minced oath. Once you know that, you probably don’t need to answer the most obvious question related the the expression: “Who’s Pete?”

There’s no specific “Pete” being referenced. The fact that the phrase is a minced oath means that this particular name is being substituted in place of a different one.

A minced oath, then, involves converting an expression that contains a word that’s considered profane, vulgar or blasphemous into a softer expression that doesn’t.

“For Pete’s sake,” is a softened version of the phrase, “For Christ’s sake,” which some folks would consider offensive.

Some people say, “Gosh!” to avoid saying, “God!” Some use “Heck” when they might otherwise say, “Hell.” And there’s “Darn!” to avoid saying, “Damn!” 

Most of these, in this day and age, barely raise an eyebrow these days. You’re more likely to encounter a minced oath that somehow replaces the F-bomb. I figure that within a few more years, even that word will be mainstream enough that such an adjustment will probably be considered unnecessary.

More’s the pity.

How do you make a holiday out of it?

Well, that wasn’t nearly as involved as one might think. It turns out a Pennsylvania radio personality and his wife submitted “For Pete’s Sake Day” to publisher McGraw Hill’s “Chase’s Calendar of Events” back in the 1990s. That’s all it took, apparently, for the day to become listed.

So what should you do to celebrate the occasion?

Maybe you can try to work a few of the more common examples into conversation…if you really, really feel the need:

  • Bloody – Chiefly a British expression, it’s believed to have evolved from “By Our Lady,” referring to the Virgin Mary 
  • By George – In place of By God
  • Dang or Darn – In place of damn
  • Friggin’ or fricken – In place of the F-bomb
  • Gadzooks – Here’s an interesting one: It’s in place of “God’s hooks,” which refer to the nails on the cross.
  • Gosh – In place of God
  • Heck – In place of Hell
  • Jiminy Cricket – In place of Jesus Christ
  • Shucks – In place of the S-word (for excrement)
  • Tarnation – In place of Hell
  • What in Sam Hill? – In place of “What in Damn Hell?”

You may have used some of these — at least at some point where the original less euphemistic version might be considered inappropriate.

After all, you don’t have to use profanity all the time, for Pete’s sake!

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.