Swapwords for Swearwords

Updated: Jul 22

Have you found yourself swearing more at the kids? Maybe your friends, family, partner or colleagues have heard some spicy language uttered from your lips, and you have felt a sinking feeling afterwards?


We all get frustrated, anxious, impatient, tired, disappointed, flummoxed .... and these feelings can worsen when times get tougher. How we respond (as opposed to "react") can have a profound effect on our own emotions.



I'm a firm believer in the power of words. Some, like "pyjamas", have a special place of warmth and cosiness. Others, like "spiders", are downright uncomfortable and make me squirm in their distastefulness. My mind conjures up the images that go with the words, so that my senses double up, and then my other senses join in. So, the word "pyjamas" will make my skin feel lovely and soft, my ears will hear the silence of bed, my eyes will feel sleepy and my nose and mouth will relax in the feelings of security. That's me; you might have other associations with pyjamas, and my apologies for bringing those up if they're not so good. Hopefully, you don't have spider family stories too, like me, because you will be hating this blog post!


A long time ago, when I was an undergraduate student at university, I made a conscious decision to try to swear less. At the time, I was learning about the relationship between words and how people feel when they say particular words out loud, or how hearing certain words will make a person feel. I decided to save naughty words for naughty times, if you know what I mean. Dirty words; dirty times! Grown-up words for grown-up times ...



The great thing about doing that is, that you save up the depth of emotion that goes with the naughty words, and it explodes when at last you get to use it (in context, as it were!).


Another great thing about saving naughty words for naughty times, is that you train yourself not to say those words when frustrated or angry. You try your best, and sometimes they do slip out, but not as often. They are said to be great for pain relief!!


I started swapping other words and made-up words for the swearwords.

So, you lose your s**t at the kids? You lose your "sherbet".


Impatient with the f***wits on the road? You're impatient with the "fenumbra" cluttering your way to work! Fenumbra is a made-up word that rhymes with penumbra, a real word. A penumbra is a part of the brain that surrounds an ischemic event like a stroke, where blood flow (and oxygen supply) is reduced. This can lead to hypoxia, which can kill off the brain cells in that site. Yep, a fenumbra can make things bad, if not addressed quickly and correctly! Fenumbra can be used as a singular noun, as in, What is that fenumbra doing? Fenumbra can be plural (because the Latin form of many nouns will end in "a"), as in, Those fenumbra are really getting on my nerves! Or, just as your regular run-of-the-mill expletive, Fenumbra!!


Where the b****y hell are you? I cringed every time I saw this ad for Australian tourism a few years back, because I didn't feel comfortable with the rest of the world knowing that Australian censors thought saying "Where the b****y hell are you?" was alright. I figure that if children are not allowed to say something at school, we should try not to say those words around them. Yet, we do, and our TV personalities make it alright. If you want to swap it out, I have some alternatives; like "Where the banonkas are you?", or "Where the bumbly hell are you?", or even "Where the Holy See are you?".


One of my favourite swapwords is "banonkas". I made it up, and it's a combination of bananas and bonkers. My definition of banonkas is "feeling a little nutty, a bit crazy, and a tiny bit curly in the head". I have no picture for it; sorry! People who make me impatient (for example, those fenumbra mentioned above), drive me banonkas. When I'm frustrated at not getting to sleep because my brain is ruminating over something, I'm going banonkas. You get the picture.


The second-last swearword, that I'd like to tackle, is c**t . This was strictly taboo when I was growing up, and extremely offensive if someone labelled someone else a c**t. Labelling is not good, no matter what words you use. When I was an undergrad studying psychology, one of my friends decided to reclaim the word. It's an interesting concept. I suppose, my choice to use self-restraint on dirty words was a form of reclamation too. For my friend, it was clear that this related to a body part that only female persons would have. The male counterpart, c**k, would be an insult too, yet (strangely) it never seemed as bad. Reclaiming these words (and others) might actually make life easier for people with neurobehavioural disorders like Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome (GTS; which can be punctuated by coprolalia, the involuntary utterance of profane or obscene words). If the words are allowed by society, the person with GTS won't need to inhibit them. Imagine that world for a moment.


If you really feel a c**t or a c**k about to be uttered (gee, I had that worded differently the first time), I would suggest the swapword could be "character". Yep, he's a character! What a character! She's a total character!


There are so many obscene, profane and offensive words. We need to be careful, because some people will think nothing of them while others will be deeply upset. It's good, if you have children, to discuss this concept with them. Get them imagining what their grandparents would think is offensive, and talk about why this would be so.


There is one last swearword I'd like to tackle, and that's the other s**t. It's strange that the English language has words for women who sleep around, and they are derogatory; but I can't think of one word that describes a man who sleeps around that is equally derisive. I found a 22-page review of swearing that didn't have anything to add to my knowledge. When I asked Dr Google, she could only offer me "gigolo", and the song (sung by David Lee Roth) entered my head. I couldn't help myself, I had to watch his YouTube, and found myself dancing and singing along. Was the video offensive? It could have been, but I wasn't offended.



So, what do we do with s**t? I really need to think about this, because I don't want to perpetuate a label of shame. If it's okay for men to sleep around, then why isn't it for women? The flipside would be, if it's not okay for women to be "promiscuous", then why should men be allowed to be "promiscuous"?


When I was a child, I learned to judge others, despite a passage in the New Testament of the Bible that said Jesus suggested that we shouldn't judge because we'll be held to the same standards that we use for others. I think that both men and women, from puberty, go looking for love. We often find infatuation, desire and seduction, and mistake those for love, leaving us vulnerable to being used sexually and emotionally. Others might think of us as promiscuous for falling in love more than once. Some of us just don't find "The One" first time around. Some of us might spend our entire lives looking for love; would you judge us too?


So, if I'm honest, then I have to say that I have no swapword for this one. All I have, is the deepest apology ...


At the start of this blog post, I mentioned how we all get frustrated and anxious, and how tough times can make things worse. I also mentioned that there's a difference between having a response (which is measured and thought-out) and having a reaction (which is a knee-jerk, gut-driven action).


You feel better when you're prepared, than when you just fly off.

You feel more normal when you speak without swearwords. If you save a few favourites for "in context", then you might have a special surprise, in context!


I suppose, we all need to go a bit easier on ourselves and each other. We need to remember that change happens in baby steps. Remember when a baby takes those first steps - we are so proud, so amazed, so encouraging! We keep urging that baby to practise, and we praise them for every try. We give them a hug every time they try some more steps, and fall; just as much as we hug them every time they take enough steps to walk towards our open arms.


Every baby step is magical. It has the power to transform. As I write this, Rod Stewart is still crooning, this time it's Van Morrison's "Have I told you lately (that I love you)". Imagine each step that took them to worldwide adoration. One baby step at a time. I bet, too, that they didn't get anywhere without help. It takes courage to gratefully accept help, but also to ask for it. Imagine, how incredibly brave you are when you ask for help! And imagine how confident you are when you have prepared and practised, and finally, you step into a moment made for you (like this one).


I want to let you know how amazing you are; every time you try, every time you ask for help, every time you gratefully accept help, and every time you take a step into the unknown. Every baby step is magical, so every step you take is made of magic.



  • Check out the little love notes embedded in the images .. some songs of old, to brighten your day ...


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