Curse of the Ancients
aka: Minced Oath
Lou: Why do you always lose your keys, dag-nabbit?!
In the old days
, people didn't swear like kids today swear
. Or so we are led to believe
, as elders caught in a rage will scream or mutter curses that can best be described as antiquated
In television, and especially cartoons Miniature Senior Citizens
will spew invective that's essentially an archaic form of Unusual Euphemism
. "Damn it" becomes "con-sarn-it," "dang-blast-it" or something else DeceasedCrab
uses to filter his language while recording. Even relatively inoffensive phrases such as "Good lord" becomes "great-googly-moogly," "land sakes," and the like.
This trope is an exaggerated version of the Expressiveness Cycle, the linguistic explanation of how extreme language becomes less extreme over time. Can be prime Narm
for modern viewers when played straight.
Related to Gosh Dang It to Heck!
and Oh My Gods!
Many English swear words are actually very old words, mostly of Germanic provenance. But then, look up the etymology of "poppycock" some time.
- The Music Man, which takes place in a small Iowa town, 1912, has a character who keeps saying "Jeely Cly." For reasons not easily explained, the movie changed this to "Great Honk." - which the mayor still considers offensive speech.
- "Jeely Cly" is almost certainly a corruption of "Jesus Christ", which wasn't going to get a pass in an early 1960's Hollywood musical.
- Zaneeta keeps saying, "Ye gads!" which goes with her predilection for Shakespeare references.
- The original (stage) version of Room Service is about the production of a play called Godspeed, and a Running Gag has every character's departure from the stage marked with "Godspeed!" But under the Hays Office, the word "God" could not be used except in a context of religious reverence; so for the 1938 Marx Brothers film version, the title (and the joke) was changed to Hail and Farewell. Another character who routinely proclaims "God damn it" when he's frustrated says "Jumping butterballs" in the movie.
- Loki's notorious "mewling quim" insult to Black Widow in The Avengers.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events: "Blasted furnaces of Hell!"
- Peter Pan had Captain Hook and his crew curse in this manner. "Odds bods, hammer and tongs!"
- "Odds bods" and similar curses are all over the place in William Shakespeare, Fielding, and others. "Odds bods" is a corruption from "God's Body", "S'blood" from "God's Blood" or "His Blood" ("bloody" may or may not have a similar etymology), "Zounds" is "God's wounds" (see the Online Etymology Dictionary), "Gadzooks" is from "God's hooks" (again see the OET)—conceivably referring to the nails used to nail Jesus Christ to the cross, but more usually considered to be his hands, as in "meathooks"—and "odds bodkins" may be "God's Bodkins" (the crucifixion nails again) but is more likely "God's Bodykins", the latter actually used (Act II, scene ii) by Hamlet: body + diminutive / familiar suffix. Even "golly" is technically a curse, a variation of "God" (see Dictionary.com)—NOT likely to be "God's Folly", even though St. Paul says that the latter is wiser than the wisdom of men. So is "gosh", a simple alteration of "God" (see any dictionary at all).
- Gil of ARM from Larry Niven 's Flatlanders stories occasionally used words like "Censored" and "Bleeping" for swear words. To him they were appropriately offensive, until another character explained that those words only began to be considered crude after they were used as stand-ins for the original seven words.
- Mrs. Whitlow from Unseen University also says "Sugar!" instead of... you know.
She may say
sugar, but what she means is shi-
- In Catherine Called Birdy, Catherine constantly uses funny sounding oaths, which make fun reading for sixth grade English classes. God's bones, indeed. "God's thumbs" is her favorite, because thumbs are so useful.
- The title character of Dolores Claiborne would use "Cheese and crackers" as a minced oath. This carried over to the film.
- In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one paragraph has Captain Phoebus de Chateaupers swearing quite enthusiastically, "By the blood of God! By the belly of God! Blood and thunder! By the body of God! By the navel of the devil! By the beard of the Pope! Hell and damnation!"
- In the world of Hyboria, from Conan the Barbarian stories, characters would often exclaim "By Crom's Beard!", "By Crom!", or simply "Crom!" which was the name of a particularly apathetic god.
- At least, Conan would, since Crom was the chief god of the Cimmerians. "His own gods were simple and understandable. Crom was their chief, and he lived on a great mountain, whence he sent forth dooms and death. It was useless to call on Crom. He was a gloomy, savage god, and he hated weaklings. But he gave a man courage at birth, and the will and might to kill his enemies. Which was all any god should be expected to do." For understandable reasons, non-Cimmerians don't seem to have adopted Crom's cult with much enthusiasm.
- From Conan's prayer the movie: "...and if you do not listen, then to hell with you!"
- "Mitra!" seems to be most characters' equivalent to "Jesus Christ!"
- If you're playing The Eye of Argon drinking game, you take a shot every time Grignr the Ecordian yells "by the surly beard of Mrifkr!"
- One of the '90s Sonic the Hedgehog novels has Tails coming out with the line "what the fugding [sic] heck is that?" He also used "sugaring flip". Tails using out-of-date slang (not just invective) was a constantly lampshaded Running Gag in the books.
- This is combined with Deliberate Values Dissonance as a Running Gag in Fever 1793. The main character often says "Dash it all!" when irritated, and given the time period, everyone else treats her as horribly foulmouthed.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy, one of the Little House on the Prairie series, has the nine-year-old hero's cry of "Gol ding it!" specifically described by the narrative voice as swearing.
- In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura's cousin uses "Gosh!" and the shocked narrative voice observes how 'she used that wicked word boldly'.
- In Carol Ryrie Brink's 1936 Baby Island, one of the two heroines describes the situation as "just one darn thing after another". Her older sister is so distracted she forgets to remind Jean that she must never say "darn".
- Lampshaded in Ash: A Secret History, where the editor explains that he translated the cursing of the eponymous character (a female mercenary who grew up in the camp) as "fuck" and equivalent modern oaths, since "God's death" and the like would seem quaint rather than shocking to modern readers.
- The Sharpe series uses antiquated obscene language, but in ways that make it quite clear what the terms mean, and they're clearly 'not' euphemisms. When Sharpe says something "hurt like buggery," for example, he's comparing it to anal rape.
- In the Isaac Asimov Foundation series, one character substitutes some soul-soothing cussing with the word "unprintable". Although, now that I think about it, perhaps he was using stronger language and Asimov simply refused to print it.
- Very Asimov. The short story "C-Chute" has this as well, with the simple note that the character's reply "was unprintable."
- Asimov's characters followed the pre-1970s convention of using "unprintable" as signifying "not suitable for mixed company". In the novel of Fantastic Voyage the hero speculates that CMDF, the insigne of the paramilitary organization, might stand for "Consolidated Martian Dimwits and Fools", and adds, "I've got a better one than that but it's unprintable" — and he's not in mixed company.
- In those days, certain language was literally unprintable—at least, it wouldn't be printed in any respectable publication. No publisher would risk prosecution for indecency and/or confiscation of a work when that work wasn't inherently indecent, so adjustments were made at the margins.
- In David Gerrold and Larry Niven's The Flying Sorcerers, we get to hear the traveller's translator-recorder's version of what he is really saying when he discovers the locals have sabotaged his spaceship.
- In L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth series, a "translation convention" replaces all swearwords with (Bleep). It gets really tiresome after a while.
- In Stanislaw Lem's Cyberiad, Klapaucius says "Great Gauss!"
- On The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson's "Carnac the Magnificent" would issue humorous curses of the form "May a (noun) (verb) your (noun)."
- One variant: "May a weird holy man present you with a rubber novelty in the shape of your mother." Which isn't so bad until you consider that, at the time, "novelty" meant, fairly exclusively, "sex toy". They were (and in some places still are) sold as "novelties" to get round regulations on selling sex toys.
- Cloris Leachman was known to say bleepable words when she scored low (which happened often) on Dancing with the Stars.
- James May and to a lesser extent Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear use antiquated profanity like "S'truth!" and "Bloody Nora."
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A good example would be The Mayor, a centuries-old evil politician aspiring to "ascend" into demon form and slaughter hundreds of people, who talks like this regularly, in addition to being genuinely concerned about manners, punctuality, good personal hygiene, and so forth. In fact, after having taken his demon form - an enormous snake - he is led into a room full of explosives which the Scoobies have planted in the hopes of annihilating him once and for all; his response (delivered in a deep, electronic version of the Mayor's usual voice): "Well, gosh!" Yes, it is as funny as it sounds.
- Averted by Deadwood. Apparently the writers tried period swearing, but everyone sounded like Yosemite Sam, so they used words that would be perceived by a modern audience the way the actual language would have been perceived at the time instead.
- Saturday Night Live's Grumpy Old Man wants everyone to know that back in HIS day, they didn't have these modern curse words. They said things like "Flibityfloo!" and they LIKED it.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: in The Final Sacrifice, Mike comes down with Grizzled Old Prospector Syndrome (because he's immune to Hockey Hair (long story)), which causes him to use words like "con-sarn it," "dagnabbit," and to call the bots "varmints."
- This is inspired by a character in the movie who looks and sounds like Alberta's answer to Yosemite Sam - but he doesn't use Curse of the Ancients. In many of their jokes about him Mike and the bots lay it on thick, though.
- In one episode of M*A*S*H, during a staff poker game, Klinger, before looking at his hand, prays, "May he who brings the water to the parched deserts grant me a small pair of aces!" When he looks at his hand he immediately folds, muttering, "May the mother of your camel spit in your yogurt."
- Played with in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama The Settling. Companion Hex almost gets executed for blasphemy after casually saying "Oh my God" in front of Oliver Cromwell.
- In the episode of "Mark Time" heard on the The Firesign Theatre's Dear Friends recording, Dr. Technical says "Dad ding blast it to blazes! ... If I could just get this dad blame water pump to turn over."
- Pey'j of Beyond Good & Evil is prone to these—"Consarnit!" "Dangblastit!" "You idjit!" et cetera. Oddly, his favorite epithet seems to be the decidedly less-ancient "Sweet Jesus!"
- In God of War, Ancient Grecian Sociopathic Hero Kratos often used the term "By the Gods!" as an exclamation. Justified, as our curse words wouldn't be invented for over a thousand years.
- Er. Technically, our language wouldn't be invented for over a thousand years. The Ancient Greeks had their own curse words.
- Team Fortress 2: The Engineer used to use nothing but minced oaths, but he gained much more aggressive voice responses after the Engineer update (possibly as a nod to the effects of Australium)
- Madame Foster of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends will occasionally resort to venting in this manner.
- Grampa Simpson on The Simpsons;
"In my day, TV stars weren't allowed to say 'booby', 'tushy', 'burp', 'fanny-burp', 'water closet', 'underpants', 'dingle-dangle', 'Boston marriage', 'LBJ', 'Titicaca', 'hot dog', or 'frontlumps'!"
- Bart Simpson even used it before:
Bart: Barbershop? That ain't been popular since aught-six, dagnabbit.
Homer: Bart, what did I tell you?
Bart: No talking like a grizzled 1890s prospector, consarn it.
- Sideshow Bob brings us a sterling delivery of "By Lucifer's beard!"
- Grandpa Lou Pickles from Rugrats
- Donald Duck is rather well versed in the Curse of the Ancients. He often lets off a few of them before he goes into his characteristic unintelligible ranting. He did debut in the 1930s, though, back when some words and phases couldn't be used in respectable films.
- Likewise so is Yosemite Sam of Looney Tunes. "That rassen-fressennote consarn idget rabbit bit my nose!"
- Granny, in the Sylvester/Tweety shorts, would express her frustration with the likes of "Ohh, flibbertygibbet!"
- Other characters tend to use Angrish instead.
- The appropriately named Fowlmouth from Tiny Toon Adventures, after Buster trains him out of his regular bleeped-out swearing.
- Ron Stoppable from Kim Possible is chastened when at a field trip to an Amish-like town for using modern-day words of frustration, and must resort to "Consarn it!"
- Granny Smith, matriarch of the Apple family in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, talks like this sometimes. Applejack does too when exited, often as obvious censors of common curses.
- Joe Biden's use of "bunch of malarkey" counts—when was the last time you heard anyone under the age of, well, Joe Biden call anything "malarkey" except as a Joe Biden reference? (To clarify: "malarky" is still pretty common to hear in America; it's just that everyone who uses it tends to be older, and a younger person would not usually think to use it.) Also counts as Gosh Dang It to Heck!, since the contemporary way to say that would be "a load of bull(shit)".
- YMMV on that one as 'malarkey' is still used quite frequently in the UK/Ireland, but may have struck a US viewer as slightly odd.