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Curse of The Ancients

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Lou: Why do you always lose your keys, dag-nabbit?!
Stu: Why do you always talk like a prospector when you're aggravated, "con-flabbit?"

In the old days, people didn't swear like kids do today. 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 fact, at the time, those old curses were truly horrific. Even something like "gadzooks!"note  and "zounds!"note  would have been incredibly blasphemous to some. But, well, Time Marches On.

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 that deliberately has more syllables and less punch. 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!. Not to be confused with the Curse of the Pharaoh.

Many English swear words are actually very old words, mostly of Germanic provenance. But then, look up the etymology of "poppycock" some time.


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  • This 1990s Public Service Announcement by the Independent Television Commission, the former Censorship Bureau for British commercial television, on their regulation of swearing on TV. If you didn't click, the advert shows a spoof cop show action scene with tough cops and crooks talking to each other like Enid Blyton characters.

    Comic Books 
  • The Mighty Thor and The Incredible Hercules of The Avengers funnily enough have a predilection for euphemistic Christian curses, the former using "Od's blood!" (originally a corruption of "God's blood!", but here apparently taken as a shortening of "Odin's blood!"), the latter "Zounds!" ("God's" or "His wounds!").

    Fan Works 
  • Inter Nos: The My-HiME AU fanfic uses a good deal of Antiquated Linguistics, as well as Gratuitous Latin. This includes swear words and insults. In one instance, Nao tricks Natsuki, part of a foreign auxiliary unit assigned as Shizuru's bodyguard, into casual swearing (Something Natsuki is not known for) by telling her that a particular term meant "rodent" when in fact it was a vulgar term for part of the male anatomy. note 
  • The Life and Times of a Winning Pony: In The Incredibly Blitzed Night of Rainbow Dash, Applejack belts out a particularly impressive and lampshaded one when upset at her brother.
    Applejack: "That dadgum sidewindin' hornswaglin' sodbustin' tree-poundin' corn-shuckin' blockheaded barn-razin' scruffy-lookin' nerf-herdin' bushwhackin' cracker-croakin' yellow-bellied galoot! What the hay is he thinkin'?"
    Lyra: "Wow. That was some authentic frontier gibberish."
  • Respect a Woman: Smoker's preferred exclamations run something along the lines of "Jeezum Crow!"
  • A Wild Badfic Appeared! Commentaries: Sometimes characters from less modern settings will unironically use (often British) phrases and words like "Goddesses blind me!", "consarnit", "cur", or "sod" on top of Antiquated Linguistics, leading to the imagery of teenagers and twenty-somethings cussing like senior citizens.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Old Man from A Christmas Story mutters a stream of old-fashioned expletives whenever he's frustrated (although it's somewhat implied that the narrator is toning it down for the audience). Ralphie also accidentally blurts out a very modern profanity but the narrator retroactively changes it to "Fudge". His parents were horrified.
  • Pretty much every sentence spoken by Roman Moroni in Johnny Dangerously:
    You lousy cork-soakers. You have violated my farging rights. Dis somanumbatching country was founded so that the liberties of common patriotic citizens like me could not be taken away by a bunch of fargin iceholes... like yourselves.
    • Lampshaded constantly. "The years hadn't softened Moronie. He continued to murder the English Language, and anyone who got in his way."
  • Loki's notorious "mewling quim" insult to Black Widow in The Avengers (2012).
  • 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.

  • In the Imperial Radch series, Seivarden — who spent a millennium as a Human Popsicle and has some very antiquated mannerisms — uses "Varden's suppurating cuticles!" in a stressful moment, gets a laugh for using language straight out of a historical drama, and is quite scandalized to hear that such appalling language isn't taken seriously in the present day.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • In Blind Descent, Anna Pigeon complains about wanting to swear but being too uncomfortable to do so in a group of people she does not know well. One of the other rangers introduces her to the joys of what he calls 'cowboy swearing'; letting loose yells of things like "Goddang it!" or "Consarn it!". Anna tries it and finds it a great way of letting out frustration.
  • 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 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.
  • 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!"
  • In Stanislaw Lem's Cyberiad, Klapaucius says "Great Gauss!"
  • Discworld:
    • Mrs. Whitlow from Unseen University also says "Sugar!" instead of... you know.
      Ridcully: She may say sugar, but what she means is shi
    • Becomes a minor plot in Monstrous Regiment, when Shufti's use of this trope reveals her to be, well, a her.
    • In Maskerade, Nanny Ogg is so shocked by the sight of Granny Weatherax all Duchessed up that none of her ample vocabulary of swearwords are sufficient, and she resorts to an ancient curse used by her grandmother: "I'll be mogadored."
  • The title character of Dolores Claiborne would use "Cheese and crackers" as a minced oath. This carried over to the film.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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!"
  • Averted in Jo's Boys, the last book in the Little Women series. Speaking of the plight of his friends the Montana Indians, Dan exclaims "I call that a damned shame!" The word is written out in full. After a moment's shocked silence, the speaker says that it is a damned shame — using the word again — and he won't apologize.
  • In L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth series, a "translation convention" replaces all swearwords with (Bleep). It gets really tiresome after a while.
  • 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—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).
  • Cranley and a few other university classmates of Stephen's in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man use "sugar."
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: "Blasted furnaces of Hell!"
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Not a curse, but an insult is used by Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory. Specifically, Sheldon once referred to another character as an "Indian giver." The insult being in reference to the original misunderstanding of the lack by many Native American societies of the concept of "mine" and "yours." This insult was used more frequently in the past when referring to someone who would refuse to do or give anything as a favor unless they were given or had something done for them in return, and were also ungrateful when they were given, or had something done for them.
  • 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.
  • Cloris Leachman was known to say bleepable words when she scored low (which happened often) on Dancing with the Stars.
  • Inverted 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.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Ace was a tough teenage delinquent who wasn't allowed to swear (her most virulent insult was "toerag"). On more than one occasion she used "Gordon Bennett" as an oath, probably the only person born in the 1970s to do so unironically in fiction or real life. Of course, if Donna's use of 'frickin' is anything to go by, the TARDIS translation matrix may include a swear filter...
    • In "The Five Doctors", the Pertwee Doctor starts tossing out old-fashioned expostulations like "Jehoshaphat!" that one guide book said made him sound like Rhett Butler.
      Third Doctor (alarmed on seeing the revolving timescoop heading for him out of the sky): "Great balls of fire!!"
  • M*A*S*H:
    • In one episode, 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."
    • Colonel Potter had lots of these when he was angry, like "Horse hockey!" and "Buffalo bagels!"
  • In an episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Kimberly traveled back in time to the 1800's and met the ancestors of the other Rangers. Usually Billy's vocabulary was incomprehensible to the other Rangers, but this time the situation was inverted. When Billy's ancestor used the word "hornswoggle," Kimberly was the only one there who didn't know the word.
  • 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.
  • Many characters in Rome swear up a storm in this way, frequently taking the form of blasphemous boasts or insults. While "fuck" and "bastard" are peppered throughout dialogue for emphasis, serious insults and anguished cries generally involve sexual or violent invocations of the gods.
  • Saturday Night Live: The show'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.
  • 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.
  • James May and to a lesser extent Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear use antiquated profanity like "S'truth!" and "Bloody Nora."

    Radio Drama 
  • 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."

    Video Games 
  • 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!"
  • The English language Fire Emblem games are fond of using "dastard" as a stand-in for "bastard", as well as many, many other such expressions ranging from simply dated to really archaic; while not all of them are necessarily swears, they're not uncommonly used as insults. Like the God of War example, it's meant to reflect the less-than-modern setting - all Fire Emblem games take place in medieval fantasy worlds, wherein neither the language nor the technology seems to be capable of becoming any more modern no matter how much time passes. This often leads to the somewhat strange sight of teenagers and people in their 20s calling someone a "Craven cur!" or "Mooncalf".
  • In God of War, Ancient Grecian Sociopathic Hero Kratos often uses the term "By the Gods!" as an exclamation. Given that he is ancient, it's highly appropriate for his setting.
  • Solatorobo: The (non-Translation Convention-ed) language appears to be French of all things, as Red will sometimes exclaim "Nom d'un chien!" or "Sapristi" when the situation calls for it. Unfortunately, these are so inoffensive they could be used in Tintin, being very old bowlderisations for Nom de Dieu!" (In God's name!/For God's sake!) and Sang-Christi (Christ's blood!).
  • 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).


    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Madame Foster of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends will occasionally resort to venting in this manner.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • Old Man McGucket is prone to talking like this. "Aw, banjo polish!"
    • While attending an Pioneer Day festival, Grunkle Stan tells Dipper and Mabel not to use the old-timey speech the townfolk are using, leading immediately to:
      Dipper: There's a carpet-bagger in the turnip cellar!
      Mabel: Well, hornswoggle my haversack!
    • Subverted in the episode Not What He Seems when Dipper and Mabel watch security footage of Grunkle Stan. It turns out any outdating curses he usually throws out are only because he knows the kids are too young for real swearing.
      Stan: [drops a heavy barrel on his foot] Gah! Hot Belgian Waffles! [beat] Wait... I'm alone! I can swear for real! [takes a deep breath] SON OF A— [Dipper quickly fast forwards the tape]
  • Ron Stoppable from Kim Possible is chastised when at a field trip to an Amish-like town for using modern-day words of frustration, and must resort to "Consarn it!"
  • Likewise so is Yosemite Sam of Looney Tunes. "That rassen-frassennote  consarn idjit rabbit bit my nose!"
    • Granny, in the Sylvester/Tweety shorts, would express her frustration with the likes of "Ohh, flibberty-gibbet!"
    • Other characters tend to use Angrish instead.
  • Molly of Denali: The elderly Mr. Rowley's usage of "Bejabbers," "Gadzooks," and "Great horn spoon" in "The Great Qyah Cleanup."
  • Granny Smith, matriarch of the Apple family in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, talks like this sometimes. Applejack does, too, when excited, often as obvious censors of common curses.
  • Grandpa Lou Pickles from Rugrats tends to use works like "consarnit" or "dagnabbit", as lampshaded in the above quote.
  • 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'note , '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!"
    • Principal Skinner bemoans "Oh ye gods!" when he finds his roast is ruined, and is forced to seek other options.
  • In Tangled: The Series, there was a mean old lady from Vardaros who snapped at EVERYONE and scoffed at anything they suggested, ending every sentence in "You clod!"
  • The appropriately named Fowlmouth from Tiny Toon Adventures, after Buster trains him out of his regular bleeped-out swearing.
  • In the Grand Finale of The Owl House, Emperor Belos (a New England Puritan Witch Hunter who has spent the past 400 years trying to enact genocide on all witches and demons) refers to the Boiling Isles as a "perdition", an archaic term for Hell in Christianity.

    Real Life 
  • 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: "malarkey" 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)".
  • Legendary retired American college football coach, Southern Gentleman minus the vices, and devout evangelical Christian Bobby Bowden is also famous for using "dad-gum" as his ultimate expression of frustration.
  • The Game Grumps are fond of calling people "clods" when upset. Not that they're old, but Arin heard it once and liked how it sounded, and now it's one of their go-to words. They even lampshade how odd it sounds nowadays.
  • A "dotard" is an archaic term for a senile old man which has largely fallen out of common least until Kim Jong-un's response to U.S. President Donald Trump's fiery UN General Assembly speech in 2017 made use of a phrase most commonly translated as this word, leading to a large number of people searching on Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, or any other search engine to figure out what it meant. Considering how North Korean Korean is apparently a lot more dated than Southern Korean Korean, the use of such a word is unexpectedly appropriate. And Americans tend to look at "dotard" as a portmanteau of "Donald" (Donald Trump) and "retard" (a slur against the intellectually disabled). Many who use the word to describe Trump are even unaware that it's a real word with an actual meaning and believe it originated after 2016 to specifically refer to Trump.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Minced Oath


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Loki reveals too much to seemingly frightened Black Widow.

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