: I think it could be... the c-word. Stewie
: What does that
have to do with anything? Brian
: No, I mean cancer. Stewie
: Oh, oh! Cancer, oh no!
This trope is a common kind of euphemism, where a word that shouldn't or can't be used will be referred to as "the <letter>-word" instead. Or, alternately, the offending word will have key letters masked by dashes, asterisks, or other punctuation (such as "f—k" or "$#!t
Usually occurs in Real Life
as a specific form of Gosh Dang It to Heck!
, especially in performances for all-ages audiences. Might also appear for comedic value, such as using a euphemism for an innocuous word, or leaving it completely ambiguous what the substituted word actually is.
Inspiration for The L Word
(in spirit, anyway
). Also see Not Using the Z Word
and N-Word Privileges
, as well as the frequently related Country Matters
. Sound Effect Bleep
is the audio equivalent. Not to be confused with an actual T-word that's considered a derogatory term for a Transsexual
More contemporary authors treat this as a Dead Horse Trope
with all related snarkery — expect a dash of Lampshade Hanging
as characters marvel that someone could pronounce all those dashes and ampersands
. Compare Trade Snark
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Anime & Manga
- The minions of Lord Pilaf of Dragon Ball are this way about the "K-word" (the K-word, of course, being "kiss").
- The English dub of Kinnikuman Nisei has this: When Kid Muscle denounces wrestling as fake, Sosumi declares "How dare he say the F-word!"
- The issue of Quantum and Woody titled "Noogie" begins with the characters introducing the issue by saying that they've been forbidden to use the "N-Word", and will use the word "Noogie" instead. The idea is later subverted when a poor black character repeatedly calls Quantum "noogie". Quantum, whose full-body costume covers his identity, demands to know how the man knows he's black, only to be told "You're black? S-Word!"
- In an issue of Viz, Student Grant is being Politically Correct and is talking about saying the N-word. Of course, he doesn't say the word itself; he says the phrase 'the N-word'. However, one friend tells another that Grant 'said 'the N-word''. Hilarity ensues.
- Played for laughs in A Very Brady Sequel, when the villain confronts Mr. Brady with a threat to "kick your Brady butt!" The family gasps, and little Cindy exclaims "Daddy, he said the B-Word!"
- Beetlejuice, when the title character is about to marry Lydia:
Ghost Minister: Do you, Betelgeuse...
Beetlejuice: Uh-uh! Nobody says the B-word.
- There is, however, a practical reason: B can be summoned or banished by saying his name three times.
- Played with in a scene in Rush Hour 3. Carter and Lee are interrogating a man who speaks only French, so they enlist a nun, who's fluent in French, to translate. So, naturally, when she translates the prisoner's taunts, she summarizes with "Well, he used the N-word". For the rest of the scene, Carter and Lee ask her to translate things like "Tell this piece of S-word that I will personally F-word him up", complete with brief stops to determine the spelling of some of the words.
- A right-wing American senator in In the Loop repeatedly uses minced oaths rather than swear words. Whem Malcolm Tucker dresses him down, Tucker says, "You are a real boring fuck. Sorry, sorry, I know that you disapprove of the swearing, so I'll sort that out: You are a boring f-star-star-cunt."
- The trope is comically subverted in UK cop film Hot Fuzz. The police station's swear box has a list of prohibited swear words, each of which is bowdlerized — except the most offensive one.
- A Christmas Story: "It was the word! The big one! The queen mother of dirty words! The "F dash dash dash" word!
- The Parent Trap (Lindsay Lohan remake) makes use of this trope when Hallie-As-Annie talks to her mother.
Hallie: Doesn't designing all of these wedding gowns ever make you think about the f-word?
Elizabeth James: The f-word?!
Hallie: My father.
- In South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, when Cartman calls Kyle a "fucking Jew" in class.
Mr. Garrison: Cartman, did you just say the F-word?!
- The 1958 film of Auntie Mame used this. The title character has given her nephew a pad of paper on which he can write down any words he hears and doesn't understand. When he mentions his father's opinion of her (basically that she's not fit to raise a dog, much less a child), she takes the pad from him and begins to write:
Patrick: What's that?
Auntie Mame: That's a "B", dear. The first letter in a seven-letter word that means your late father.
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World:
Roxie: Your BF's about to get F'd in the B!
Other Scott: Is this an Envy related dream?
Wallace: We don't use the E-word in this house.
- This often happened in Victorian fiction, to indicate that the characters are swearing without actually printing the offending word. Often the word is fuck, rendered as f—
- Which gets a little confusing when they also use hyphens to mask the names of people. Mister F—- and Miss S—- are fairly hilarious.
- In Isaac Asimov's Forward the Foundation, the word "whore" is written "wh___".
- In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where everyone is conceived and born artificially, the word "mother" is considered an obscenity. Thus, when Bernard Marx is writing his report to the World Controller about the Savage, he writes the word as "m——".
- Terry Pratchett regularly uses this trope in his Discworld novels:
- Reformed vampires rigidly refuse to say "the B-vord" for fear of losing their resolve.
- In Going Postal, after Moist von Lipwig goes on a screaming tirade about Reacher Gilt's smug, weasely speech in the Ankh-Morpork Times, the ultra-prim Miss Maccalariat admonishes him to avoid using the K-word, the L-word, the T-word, the V-word, the Y-word, and both of the S-words in the future. "Murdering conniving bastard of a weasel" was acceptable, however, since he was talking about Reacher Gilt.
- One must not say the M-word ("monkey") when the Librarian is around, since it's his Berserk Button.
- Then there's the other N-word, danced around by recurring character Quoth the Raven.
- In The Truth, Mr. Tulip habitually injects "—ing" throughout his dialog ("They never told us about no —ing dog."). It's eventually explained that, rather than being censored text, Mr Tulip actually has a 'speech impediment' that prevents him from pronouncing any part of the word except 'ing'. Lampshaded when other characters speculate on what "ing" means.
Sacharissa: "'Ing'. I feel so much better for saying that, you know? 'Ing'. 'Inginginginging'. I wonder what it means?"
- The best one, though, is one character's response to Tulip's comment when someone mis-identifies an antique instrument (It Makes Sense in Context). It also makes perfectly clear exactly what the word means.
Tulip: It's not a —ing harpsichord, it's a —ing virginal! One —ing string to a note instead of two! So called because it was an instrument for —ing young ladies!
Shadowy figure: My word, was it? I thought it was just a sort of early piano!
- Terry Prachett has noted that people have complained about the use of —ing in reading the book to school children. Pratchett reportedly could not understand their ire, as, he said, "It is essentially a self-censoring swearword" and as such better than children really swearing.
- Note that having characters pronounce the dashes and asterisks is a Running Gag in the Discworld novels as well:
"D* mn!" said Carrot, a difficult linguistic feat.
- At least as far back as Mort:
The leading thief glared at the solid stone that had swallowed Mort, and then threw down his knife. 'Well, —— me,' he said. 'A ——ing wizard. I HATE ——ing wizards!' 'You shouldn't —— them, then,' muttered one of his henchmen, effortlessly pronouncing a row of dashes.
- "7a", a Discworld euphemism for the number between 7 and 9, which is considered unlucky (as in, tends to attract eldritch nightmares) by magic users. Though Terry Pratchett often noted this point in his early novels, he tended to ignore it in later works...which led to a lot of surprise when Going Postal had Chapter 7a...
- Subverted in Reaper Man, where the Dean is forbidden by the Archchancellor from uttering "the Y-word" again, because Ridcully's gotten fed up with his colleague shouting "Yo!" every few seconds.
- And it's subverted again in Raising Steam, when Harry King threatens to throw someone down the Effing stairs. It transpires that the stairs are so-called because they're made from fine wood from the Effing Forest, visited later in the book. (In the real world, there's an Epping Forest near London.)
- In one rather bizarre novel called The Impossible Bird, characters who Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence can't say "death" unless they've killed someone on that plane. Other people are therefore very off-put if you say "the D-word."
- Harry Potter: "Effing" is a variation, fitting since the books are set in Britain ("Effing" or "f-ing" is a common euphemism for "fucking" in British slang).
- Similarly, from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency:
Dirk: "Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable, let's prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all."
- The Richard Matheson short story F---, set in a future where sustenance is no longer taken orally and as a result, the word food is considered obscene. The clever titling backfired on Matheson when the magazine that featured the story made him use a different title altogether because the unnecessarily bleeped one looked too obscene.
- Rather tediously lampshaded in Philip Jose Farmer's Sherlock Holmes/Tarzan crossover, The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, in which Holmes's grotesquely Out of Character line, "Watson, isn't that a** *** shooting a machine gun?" merits an editorial footnote questioning whether the word has one asterisk too few, or whether Holmes might have used the American formation since the a** *** under discussion was himself an American.
- The refrain of Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Sergeant's Weddin'" has the last word replaced with "etc." The context and rhyme make it plain the word is "whore," as the troops are delighted that their corrupt sergeant has been tricked into marrying a woman who'll make his life hell.
- In Richard Wright's Black Boy, characters threaten to hit each other with a "f-k-g bar."
- Booth Tarkington's Penrod uses these to hilarious extremes in his novel-within-a-novel "HARoLD RAMOREZ THE RoAD-AGENT oR WiLD LiFE AMONG THE ROCKY MTS.":
Why—— —— ——you you—— —— —— —— mules you sneered he because the poor mules were not able to go any quicker —— you I will show you Why—— —— —— —— —— ——it sneered he his oaths growing viler and viler I will whip you—— —— —— —— —— —— ——you sos you will not be able to walk for a week—— ——you you mean old—— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— ——mules you
Live Action TV
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 3, the Mayor, when talking to Faith, states that Faith "is all the slayer he would ever need" and that, if Buffy would offer herself, he would reject her now. When Faith reacts defensively, the Mayor realizes his error and apologizes for using the "b-word" (which, in this case, is "Buffy").
- Made funnier by the fact that before her Face-Heel Turn, Faith frequently called Buffy "B."
- An episode of Arrested Development plays with this. GOB Bluth buys a yacht called The Seaward, and his brother Michael is annoyed. Then their mother shows up at the tail end of the conversation and mishears "The Seaward" as "the c-word":
Michael (to GOB): I want you to get rid of The Seaward.
- Note that GOB's other yacht in the final episode is actually called ''The C-Word,'' so written.
- He also calls another of his yachts (after The Seaward. sunk) the ''Lucille II.'', making the link explicit.
- The Anvilicious episode of Big Brother 's Big Mouth following the ejection of a housemate for using the N Word.
- Gordon Ramsey's The F Word. It's not rude, it's "Food".
- There was an early Malcolm in the Middle episode where the family meets the other families of Malcolm's krelboyne class. One mother acts hostile to Lois because Malcolm taught her son "The R word." Lois' only reaction is confusion over which word is meant.
- In Mash the guys say that "the cook made 'food' a 4-letter word".
- Played for laughs in Wings when Lowell is telling the guys about his fears that his wife is cheating on him.
Lowell: I actually called her the U word.
Brian: You called her unfaithful?
Lowell: No, I called her unsatiable!
Brian: That's "insatiable". You called her the I word.
Lowell: No, the I word is "indiscreet".
- In one episode of Father Ted, Mrs Doyle has been reading the works of a lady novelist staying at the parochial house and is shocked by the language. She refers to "the F-word", but this being Father Ted has to clarify "The bad F-word. Not feck. Worse than feck."
- Subverted in That '70s Show.
Eric: Mom said the "ass" word.
- Played with in 30 Rock, when the maintenance guys are dealing with a gas leak.
Maintenance guy: I'm too old for this 'shhhhhh' sound the gas is making.
- Kenneth uses the C-word. "Yes, that's right, a cranky sue."
- In the British TV series Ultraviolet, it looks like a vampire and drinks blood like a vampire, but the word vampire is never used. Instead, they're referred to as "Code fives" (as in V, the Roman numeral for five).
- From the Community episode "Home Economics", Vaughn's song about "getting rid of Britta, I'm getting rid of the B..." (She's a G-D-B!). Has Added Alliterative Appeal since her name starts with a B.
- In an episode of The Charmings, Snow White is upset that her husband used "the F-word" in front of the kids... but since the Charmings come from a Sugar Bowl, the F-word in this case is "fiddlesticks".
- One episode of Outnumbered features a conversation which goes something like this:
Alexa: "She said the F word, the B word, and the K word."
Sue (to Pete): "What's the K word?"
Pete: "I think it's a misspelling."
- In Roseanne, Becky is sent home crying by her Jerkass boss, and her father and boyfriend find out that he called her a particularly nasty word. Her brother DJ pesters them over it, asking if it was "the b-word," "the f-word," or "the l-word." (He then admits he doesn't even know what "the f-word" is after being asked what "the l-word" is). And it's heavily implied Becky was called "the c-word."
- In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dennis angrily calls an Israeli man a Jew, causing Mac and Charlie to protest, saying that Dennis used "a hard J." Dennis is confused about objecting to calling a Jew a Jew, but Mac and Charlie insist that context makes the word offensive. Later Mac calls the same man a Jew and pre-empts Charlie's objection by saying that the context was apropriate and that he had thought about it ahead of time.
- Parodied on Living Single: Synclaire comes home upset and angrily says she's "mad as H!" Max replies "Oooh, she said the 'H' letter."
- In "LazyTown's New Superhero" on LazyTown, Robbie Rotten created a Robot Dog that attacked whenever it heard the word "trouble" because it was traditional on the series for Sportacus to shout "Someone's in trouble!" As such, "trouble" became "the T-word."
- On Orphan Black, Alison sometimes resorts to using the letter "F" as a stand-in for "fuck".
- Sometimes, "the C-word" is used instead of clone, again because of Alison, who's having a hard time dealing with being one.
- In the spoof newspaper article accompanying Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick album, the supposed lyricist, 8-year-old Gerald Bostock, is said to have shocked everybody by using the word "g—r" during a BBC interview. The lyrics reveal the word to be "gutter".
- Say Anything's cover of Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Ya Money" uses "N-word!" as a Sound Effect Bleep for censoring... well... the N-word. It's hilarious.
- Nas's 2008 album was originally supposed to be called "Nigger", but after that sparked a huge media outcry (with the NAACP amongst the detractors), Nas changed the title to the far less memorable "Untitled".
- Stephen Lynch's "I Wanna F Your Sister" uses a whole slew of letter replacements, starting with "I just wanna F the S out of your sister," and continuing on to "I want to F her in the A, and just C all over her chin, I'd stick my fist in her V, and move it around, then move it to her A-hole," all while her brother begs him to "stop using letters!"
- The cleverly titled Carcass song "R**k the vote".
- Billy Connolly's spoof version of Tammy Wynette's song D-I-V-O-R-C-E included the line "She sank her teeth in my B-U-M, and called me an F-ing C." Despite this, the BBC still insisted that the last two words be bleeped out before they would play the record on radio.
- Kevin Fowler's I Feel Like Pound Sign. The whole song is about how he's upset, but he's censoring himself in case any "little ears" are around.
- Bowling for Soup has a breakup song, entitled "A Friendly Goodbye," where the chorus is a string of these because the narrator's soon-to-be-ex hates cursing:
- In REM's "Star Me Kitten", the "star" stands in for "fuck".
- An inversion by Jeremy Hardy during his first appearance on Im Sorry I Havent A Clue in 1996. Hardy fumbles a line, swears and then apologises 'for using the fuck-w'. (This has been left in the CD of the live recording, but obviously was edited out of the broadcast.)
- From H.M.S. Pinafore:
"I never say a big, big D!"
"Well - hardly ever!"
"He hardly ever says big D!"''
- Zombie Prom: "She said the C word! The really bad one! Rhymes with 'map'!"
- In Pygmalion, housekeeper Mrs Pearce reprimands Professor Higgins for setting a bad example to Eliza:
Mrs Pearce : But there is a certain word I must ask you not to use. The girl has just used it herself because the bath was too hot. It begins with the same letter as bath. She knows no better: she learnt it at her mother's knee. But she must not hear it from your lips.
- In the 2006 London Royal Variety Performance Avenue Q portion, Mrs. Thistletwat comes on after It Sucks to be Me is played and yells this:
Keep the noise down there! You are being TOO LOUD and TOO RUDE! The S-word and the F-word? You are in front of royalty and we are not amused!
- Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse: The Penal Zone:
Sam: Spider-webs and spooky houses go together like well-dressed dogs and naked bunnies.
Max: How many times have I told you not to use the "b-word", Sam?
- In The World Ends with You, a musician called the Prince has a super popular blog called "F Everything" which gets referenced several times. No, it doesn't mean what you think it does, because the Prince is high on life. It stands for Fabulous. Which is weird, because you find this out an in-game week after it is implied that "F Everything" means exactly what you think it means.
- In Time Crisis 4 (arcade), there is a sequence where you continually (more or less) shoot at a boss while he is wrestling with an ally. As usual, you are being debriefed on the situation by another ally who is speaking to you via intercom. (This is basically narration of the game script, which is also displayed at the bottom of the screen.) For whatever reason, she decides to name the wrestling moves used by the boss. After a few ordinary examples, the script comes up "F—-!" at the bottom of the screen - and she actually yells out, "Eff!"
- Sluggy Freelance: "F-word!" (1), (2).
- In a very early strip, Bun-Bun is very sensitive to the word "neutered".
- Roommates has two strips titled this way: "Roommates 145 - The M Wordnote " and "Roommates 168 - The F Wordnote " (in this one a character actually says "so... you know... the f-word..." in a questionable situation).
- In the first episode of Black Dynamite, the N-Word is Ninja, used in every possible way the actual N-Word is used.
- The Futurama episode "War is the H-Word":
If you say the A-word, you'll blow this whole planet straight to the H-word!
- From the first episode of The Venture Bros.:
Hank: "Ah, double dammit!"
Dean: "Hank! You said the double-D word!"
- In The Simpsons episode "Bart Star" (after Homer announces that Bart will be the new quarterback, replacing the far more talented Nelson):
Bart: Give me a "B"?
Nelson: I won't give you a "B", but I'll tear ya a new "A"!
- South Park:
Randy: Yeah, whatever you c***.
Sharon: * GASP* You said the c-word!!
- The episode "You Got F'd in the A" has the trope right in the title. It's used in the dialogue as well.
- Family Guy
Brian: (refering to a mole on Stewie) I think it could be... the c-word.
: What does that
have to do with anything?
Brian: No, I mean cancer.
Stewie: Oh, oh! Cancer, oh no!
- Regular Show: "How in the H are we gonna fix this S?" H is a recurring one.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The entire "G-wiz" episode.
- Perfect Hair Forever combined this with Sound Effect Bleep by bleeping out any usage of the F-word with a guy yelling "EFF!"
- In Winnie-the-Pooh: Springtime with Roo, Rabbit doesn't want to hear the word "Easter." So at one point, Tigger tells Roo to not say "the E word."
- In the Gravity Falls episode "The Love God", Grunkle Stan shouts "What the H?" before getting hit on the head by a giant letter "H".
- Older Than Feudalism: Authors not wishing to take God's name in vain (from the idea of the Ineffable Name) Although, of course, this is for the opposite reason from most of the other examples here. Also, many observant Jews write "G-d" out of deference even though "God" is not the name of God.
- A common household censorship rule imposed by parents who forbid their children from using offensive language, when extended to non-swearword insults however this inevitably leads to confusion over the severity of the word used when tattlers euphemize it. This confusion quickly deconstructs the T-Word Euphemism and leads to Values Dissonance if parents continue to attempt to use the euphemisms and censor the children's language.
- In politics during the late 1980s, tax was often referred to as the T-word.
- In certain academic contexts, the T-word was Thesis.
- The word "effing" in the term "effing and jeffing" (British slang for a Cluster F-Bomb) is derived from this.
- Subverted occasionally by using the phrase "The fuck word" as in "his mom is mad at him for using the fuck word in front of guests."
- Before it was a televisions series in which it referred to lesbianism, "the L word" was a T-word euphemism for "liberalism." In American politics from the 1980s onwards, conservatives have enthusiastically held onto the word "conservative", but left and center-left politicians have tended to avoid the word "liberal." This doesn't necessarily apply to people not running for office.
- Courtroom TV is rife with witnesses saying, quote, "The H-word." Depending on the judge's mood, he may or may not point out that the word is, in fact, spelled with a W. Lampshaded by one witness, who pointed to the word "HOE" scratched into his car and observed that the defendant appeared to think he was a gardening implement.