Every English speaker knows this expression. (Except of course, Phil Dunphy, the character in Modern Family who thinks it means ‘Why the Face’). This acronym is the only polite version of the too often heard “F” word.

Are you a polite curser, or do you join the millions of Americans now using the F word as their primary adjective? It seems you don’t have to be angry anymore to use this curse, it is in such wide use it long ago lost its shock value or humor.

The English language contains a wealth of timeless insults and exclamations of outrage that are hardly used at all any more. Every age has its favorite expressions, from the 60s ‘man that’s cool’ all the way back to the 1700s ‘cock-o-hoop’ (translation– let the good times roll). But our age seems to be retracting the number of colorful expressions used in conversation, rather than expanding the lexicon. Even regional variations, like the rich Southern variety of exclamations (he’s madder than a hornet)  are fading into history. And when was the last time you heard an expression previously uttered daily in the West, ‘My, but doesn’t he have a burr in his saddle?’

A recent reviewer of my book discussed the learning curve needed to comprehend some of the 1850s words I included in my character’s dialogues in Flirtation on the Hudson. I braced myself after reading the words ‘learning curve’, thinking the reviewer took umbrage at words like say –umbrage. But no, she was bothered by exclamations of surprise and anger like ‘fiddlesticks’ and ‘tarnation.’

For your easy translation of these words, here is an abbreviated glossary:

Fiddlesticks, f^ck

Tarnation, oh f^ck

Pshaw, are you f^cking kidding?

Hopping Horsefeathers, what the f^ck?

Here are some other expressions and insults used by people in the 1850s, translated into common expressions heard today:

She’s madder than a hedgehog misplacin’ a sweet tater, she’s f^cking angry

I’ll be a three-legged toad, I’m f^cked

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Without the F word we would have nothing to say.

I am loathe to be dubbed a pigeon-livered granny, but I’ll be hornswoggled if I get myself in trouble one more time with an excited…F-ing slip of the tongue.

So fellow English speakers, catch yourself on, as the Irish would say, and add some variety into your life by expanding your vocabulary of excited utterances. Pretend there is always a pre-schooler present whose mother does not want them to hear curse words and substitute my fairy character Enjella’s holy molar for ‘holy sh+t’, or the 1850s dash it for dammit.

Can we at least agree to eschew f^ck you and bring back fogettaboutit?

© Jane F. Collen May 25, 2023 (newly edited, originally published as ‘How Do You Cuss’ 2021)™ small steps to make the world friendlier

One thought on “WTF?

  1. Hi Janie! I was at the market a couple of weeks ago and, p’shaw, I heard, then saw a man I’d guess to be in his mid-seventies letting loose as he tried to entangle a grocery cart from its counterparts. I stared at the back of hos head,. which actually was hypocritical of me, becauae I’d uttered the phrase Son.of a Bi*** not thirty minutes prior. He quickly turned around as if a laser had seared his back, and then he jumped when he saw me, why I don’t know, because, the last time I checked, I didn’t resemble a disembodied sceptre one bit. Janie, I must admit that I enjoy saying son of a b**** !; However, I use it exclusively to express surprise when speaking to Shanker and/or our best friend Bill, and never in public, unless something akin to a a fellow shopper grabbing the last bunch of organic kale for which I’d been reaching.


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