How do you say a word without really saying it?

I had an interesting conversation with one of my students this past week.  He decided that since he has been suffering from a severe case of Senioritis since August, now that the Forensics season is almost over, he’d like to write a new expository speech.  Apparently, his apathy might be wearing off, but we’ll see if the speech actually gets written. 

For those of you who don’t know, an expository speech is a ten-minute informational speech using visual aids.  The kids make these elaborate “boards” that have interactive elements and pictures that go along with their speech.

“Okay,” I said.  “Any idea what you want to write it on?”

He grinned.  “Ya, bad words, like . . . the F-word.”  He paused, “Can I do that?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Can you write a whole speech without ever saying your topic? Can you dance around it that much? Because you can’t swear in your speech.  I won’t let you compete if you swear.”

He smiled. “Yep, that’s the challenge. I think I can do it.”  We then proceeded to think of all the ways people have devised to refer to a swear word, or even swear, without ever really swearing.  Fudge is one example.  A more current one is “Frick.” People will actually say, “Oh fudge” and “what the frick?”  Really?

Here are the strategies we’ve come up with so far.

  1. Use a word that sounds similar to the offensive word but is oddly benign.  Fudge, for example.
  2. Use any word that has the same initial sound and final sound such as “frick” or “shoot.”  This is similar to #1.
  3. Or, just use the initials.  Texting has brought this one to the forefront.  WTF stands for something other than Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for example.
  4. Cut out the bad part and use the initial.  Everybody knows what an a-hole is, but technically, you haven’t said the “bad” part of the word.  If you don’t know what one is, it is not the hole that comes before the b-hole.
  5. Use a non-word.  I’m not sure how to type this as it is a totally verbal usage.  It would work in a speech though. Two examples that come to mind are from the film The Christmas Story, one of my all-time favorites.  Example #1 – when Ralphie loses all the nuts to the tire and his Father has a tirade, and Example #2 – when his mom calls his buddy’s mom to tell her that her son said “fudge,” and the mom begins beating her son while Ralphie’s mom listens. In both cases, you don’t hear a swear word, but you KNOW that’s what they are saying.
  6. Provide the entire history of a word, its etymology which is its origins in Old Latin or wherever it came from. For example, there is a word in our language that is derived from the Old English word, “scite” meaning dung.  I’m thinking you can figure out the word.
  7. Synonyms are useful.

Feel free to add to our list if you have any fabulous strategies; I think he could use the help, and maybe the motivation too.

No Comments

  1. Sandy on February 21, 2012 at 3:22 am

    Eff it. 🙂

    • Amy Isaman on February 21, 2012 at 3:47 am

      Good one – kinda goes with the initials one.

  2. Laura on February 29, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Funny topic to write on. I have heard alot of interersting substitutions. When my son was young, he would copy Sponge Bob and say “Barnacles!” when he got annoyed. My sweet southerly grandmother exclaimed “Sugar!” and I recently read a post where someone expressed himself by shouting “Mother Hubbard” at aggressive drivers when his kids were in the car with him. Maybe your student could explore the history of some of these variations. That could be an interesting one to read.

    • Amy Isaman on March 1, 2012 at 3:20 am

      Those are great – I’ve heard them too. I’ve been thinking that its not the words but the intention (or release of tension) behind the words that is really the kicker. They all carry the same energy, though I’m not sure sharing all that negative energy is a good thing, perhaps releasing it is! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. !%%title%%amp;%* - GeekErgoSum on March 4, 2012 at 10:01 am

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    • Amy Isaman on March 12, 2012 at 4:06 am

      Thanks for the link!

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