Oh My Heck, Flippin' Fetch Isn't Really Swearing, Is It?

By Bob Mims The Salt Lake Tribune (Saturday, 29 April 2000)

You slam on the brakes, rattling both your car and nerves, when yet another rush-hour idiot cuts you off. And as the air-conditioner conks out and you roll down the window to choking exhaust from the bus in the next lane, you can feel it coming.

Irresistible, the rage rises from that hot knot in your stomach, accelerates through a growling throat and then explodes through your lips with volcanic fury. It is The Word, and it escapes in a rolling bellow at the Fates: "FUDGE!"

Welcome to Utah, where even profanity is done in moderation.

To be sure, more hard-core cussing is no stranger to Utahns' ears. Still, in a state that is 70 percent Mormon, a plethora of less-offensive colloquialisms have been crafted to satisfy the urge to verbally vent. Open your ears and it won't be long before you hear "Oh my heck" ("Oh my freaking heck," for especially notable occasions). "Oh Gash." "Oh my holy crap." "Dang it." "Judas Priest." "H-E-double hockey sticks (or toothpicks)." "Oh yeah? Well you're a horse's p'toot."

The rejoinder could be, "Am not, but you're just ignorant" (pronounced: "ignernt," and meaning not so much mentally vacuous as just plain rude).

"Ah, scrud . . . suds . . . sheesh," might be the appropriate counter-reply.

But the favorite substitutes flirt with the acknowledged Mother of All Swear Words, the utilitarian four-letter Anglo-Saxon standby that begins with the soft "f" sound and ends with an abrupt consonantal click. There is "Flip," and like its X-rated progenitor useful as noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb or space-filling modifier. An example of the latter is Mapleton resident Roger Comstock's recent admonishment of his City Council: " . . . when it comes to replacing our Police Department, abso -- flippin' -- lutely you need our permission."

Don't forget the aforementioned "Freak" and its variations, or "Fetch." Gordon Allred, an English professor at Weber State University, offered yet another soft-core "f" word candidate. "One of my friends who returned from a mission to France . . . was addicted to the word 'funch' with such variations as 'funchy' and

'funchin'," he recalled. "He used the word so frequently, in all three forms, that I finally nicknamed him 'Funch.'"

Allred's own mission, some 50 years ago in Canada, found creative LDS Church missionaries fond of "Scrud," and for special emphasis, "Scrud Oh Dear!"

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asked for comment on the Mormon euphemisms, skirted clear of direct condemnation. Spokesman Dale Bills would only say that the faith "teaches its members to use language that lifts and inspires others and that honors God's commandment to not take his name in vain. "Church members are encouraged to avoid the use of profanity and any foul language that shows a lack of respect for God, self and others." That being the case, Alexander Baugh, an assistant professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, defends "alternative words" as an acceptable means of expressing intense feelings.

"After all, 'heck' takes on a whole different feeling than 'hell.' I don't see that [heck] as profanity in itself," Baugh said. "No one would condemn me or gasp if I said some of those [substitute] words instead of the real four-letter variety."

However, the late J. Golden Kimball might smirk. Memorialized in Utah folklore, the Mormon general authority was called to the First Council of the Seventy in 1892 and spent the next five decades lacing his talks liberally with "hells" and "damns."

Among dozens of "J. Golden" stories is one in which LDS Church President Heber J. Grant tried to tame the former cowboy-turned-elder's tongue by writing a radio speech for Kimball and ordering him to read it. However, once on the air, Kimball struggled with Grant's handwriting and finally exclaimed, "Hell, Heber, I can't read this damn thing."

Baugh admits that had Kimball substituted "heck" and "darn," it just wouldn't be as funny. Still, the days of swearing Mormon churchmen has passed. "There is no way today that any type of that language would be acceptable," the professor said. Perhaps not, but that does not eliminate the desire indeed, the need to "express deep emotion by breaking the linguistic boundaries," said John McLaughlin, an assistant professor of English at Utah State University. "Within this community the main profanity words still carry a strong social taboo against them much stronger than other segments of society, or even other segments of the country," he said. "However, people here still need the emotional release of words that flirt with the boundaries."

Marianna Di Paolo, chairwoman of the University of Utah's linguistics department, agrees that local euphemisms may skirt the realm of the truly obscene. The intent, though, is the same as that behind the words that may have led to a bar soap snack in years past. "We all know that 'heck' means 'hell,' " she said. "When someone yells, 'Fudge!' we all know they don't mean, 'give me more chocolate.' But we tolerate it in this society because we feel that next to the other words, it's not that bad," Di Paolo said.

Still, there is a danger that someday even "fudge" through its repeated usage as a sort of PG-rated expletive will also be a word no longer uttered in polite society.

"In years to come, we might wonder how this word that means 'chocolate confection' came to have such a horribly profane meaning," Di Paolo said. "Well, we would find it was by sound identification [with the original F-word]."