DIY Oathmaking

While most common obscenities are a single barked word or set phrase, a number of them allow for user creativity, and ad-hoc formation that suits the moment. These are noteworthy in that they permit a linguistic dialing-up or dialing down of the desired force.

Jesus H. Christ

The insertion of “h” into “Jesus Christ” is a mild intensifier, and has a long history. The etymology is contested, but likely stems from the Christian symbol representing the first three characters of Christ’s name, iota-eta-sigma, which looks like IHS:

sethc

Suggestions that the “h” stands for “Harold,” ‘Henry,” or “holy” can be summarily discarded. So far, this results in a standard epithet, but the fun starts when one adds “on a” to the pattern, e.g.: “Jesus H. Christ on the cross,” “Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick”  or “Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket.”  or from the Blues Brothers movie, “Jesus H. tap-dancing Christ.” Also: “Jesus H. Christ on a cracker,” “Jesus H. Christ on a rubber crutch,” and “Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick.”

In these forms, the user can append virtually any prosaic phrase that comes to mind.

Furthermore, the “h” can be included or discarded, in such forms as “Christ on a raft,” “Christ on a crutch,” “Christ on a bike,” and others.

It’s queer

In a similar vein, we have a wealth of epithets beginning with “queer as a …” in which the user can insert any phrase that springs to mind, e.g.:

  • Queer as a 3-dollar bill
  • Queer as a plaid rabbit
  • Queer as a football bat
  • Queer as a clockwork orange
  • Queer as a nine-bob note
  • Queer as a 3-speed walking stick

None of the above play off of “queer” in the sense of gay, but some forms like “gayer than a two-dollar bill” have been coined to that end  in addition to the now-popular “queer as folk.”

Tmesis thesis

Then we have the interpolation of epithets into a word, .e.g, “far-fucking-out”, “fan-fucking-tastic”, “abso-fucking-lutely, in which “fucking” is threaded into an expression of surprise, amazement, or agreement, but “goddamn” or “motherfucking” are routinely seen.

Ok, fine

Playing off the sense of “fine” as meaning “in good spirits,” we have “fine as frog’s hair,” “as slippery as frog hair,” and phrases indicating the unusual, e.g., “as rare as rocking-horse shit” and “as small as the hairs on a gnat’s bollock.”

Go crazy

And in the simile department, “crazy” generates a fair number of off-the-cuff expressions like:

  • Crazy as a shit-house rat
  • Crazy as a loon
  • Crazy as a soup sandwich
  • Crazy as Larrabee’s calf

This is not intended to be a listing of popular folk expressions as much as it notes the type of phrasing that allows the speaker to insert a word or term selected on the fly. There is no limit to the number of variants that can be created as needed, and these reflect on the wit and inventiveness of the speaker.

12 thoughts on “DIY Oathmaking

  1. CGHill January 18, 2015 / 10:33 pm

    It was my understanding that the H in “Jesus H. Christ” stood for “Howard,” which was an old family name. See, for instance, “Our Father, which art in heaven, Howard be thy name.”

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  2. Anna January 19, 2015 / 5:57 pm

    I always thought that the H was to make the oath milder — as if to say I’m NOT referring to Jesus Christ, but to that made-up person, Jesus H. Christ, so I’m not really swearing. Like goldarn instead of goddamn. Or as my father-in-law taught my 3-year-old, “cheese-and-rice”!

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  3. Mededitor January 19, 2015 / 6:38 pm

    In researching this article, I found references to the ‘H’ meaning ‘Howard,’ from ‘Howard by thy name,’ etc, labeled “fanciful,” “folk etymology,” etc. The IHS suggestion is considered the best going, but it is not 100 percent confirmed.

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  4. Tim Walker (@TWalk) January 19, 2015 / 7:12 pm

    Good stuff, Med. A couple of riffs:

    1. Re “Jesus H. Christ on a cross”: Can be even further modified by using bywords for “Jesus Christ” in the first place, e.g. “Jiminy H. Christmas on a cracker.”

    2. Re infixes as intensifiers: besides “fucking,” “motherfucking,” and “goddamn,” we have the wonderful Commonwealth usage of “-bloody-,” e.g. “abso-bloody-lutely.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gareth January 19, 2015 / 7:16 pm

    Ned Flanders’ pleasing minced oath is ‘Jeepers H. Crackers’.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anne January 20, 2015 / 12:13 pm

    “IHS” also stands for In Hoc Signo,”By This Sign”, the sign being the sign of the cross.

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  7. Robert Elliott January 20, 2015 / 1:24 pm

    Like a previous commenter I thought that the addition of the H was to specify that one wasn’t talking about our lord and saviour, but a different guy who happened to share a name.

    As for the initial: I’ve always liked to think that, in direct contradiction to my above assumption, the H stood for ‘Haploid’.

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  8. Mededitor January 20, 2015 / 9:29 pm

    From a linguistic standpoint, I think the insertion of the ‘H’ isn’t to insert a word for any lexical purpose; rather, it’s a pause for the speaker to sort of wind up with a 1-2-3 cadence. As other commenters note above, the religiously sensitive simply change all the names, e.g., “Jiminy Christmas.” If extending the oath with a humorous “in a X,” “on a Y,” etc., it is thereby softened or coarsened depending on the imagery selected.

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  9. Zack January 22, 2015 / 11:21 pm

    My grandfather (and my mother, who got it from him) would occasionally expand the H. to “Jesus Hoary-eyed Christ.” They used it more as a startle reaction than an actual curse.

    Many years later, some friends and I were goofing around with secularized curses on the same prosody and came up with “James H. Joyce (on a bicycle).”

    Liked by 1 person

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