91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Life

Where did these “effing” euphemisms come from?



We have found many ways to say curse words without actually saying them.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss euphemisms for taboo words.

The presence of euphemisms shows how impactful words can be. Curzan describes, "Words are enormously powerful and they can do a lot of damage, which is why with some of them, we find ways to get around actually saying them."

One of the first English-language euphemisms for a taboo word was "criminy," which showed up in 1681. Speakers used this word to avoid saying "Christ."

The origins of "gee," as in "gee willikers" or "gee whiz," are less clear. Some linguists believe these euphemisms came from "gee willikens" as a substitute for "Jerusalem," which was a common exclamation of surprise in the 19th century.

On the other hand, the similar word "jeez," which was first used around 1923, is likely a euphemism for "Jesus." Although the exact origins of these taboo words are disputed, it is clear that many developed due to religious beliefs.

Nowadays, there are countless ways to avoid saying the "F" word, including "effing," "frickin’" and "freakin’". The word "friggin," however, is not a euphemism for the "F" word.

"Friggin' is a taboo word itself," Curzan explains. "That one goes back to the word 'frig,' which historically has a sexualized taboo meaning, which you can look up."

How the heck do you cuss politely? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

-Clare Toeniskoetter Michigan Radio Newsroom

Related Content