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I know for heaven's sake, for Pete's sake, for God's sake and for Christ's sake. All of those, however are religious references. The only non-religious equivalent phrases I know are for fuck's sake and its variations.

Are there any non-vulgar, non-religious alternatives? I am very used to the general construct of for X's sake and am looking for something along the same lines that I could use in cases like

C'mon, it's just a scratch for X's sake!

That's not even true for X's sake!

It does not need to also be applicable as a general exclamation of frustration (Oh, for chrissake!) but that would be nice. Basically, I'm looking for a synonym for the "Oh come on!" sense of for fuck's sake rather than the Oh shit! one.


EDIT: Since this has gotten quite a bit of attention, I would like to urge those who answer to read the entire question, not just the title. I am not just looking for polite swearwords but for something that can be used in the example phrases above.

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I think it pretty much stands to reason any variant on for X's sake must at least allude to the "blasphemous" original(s). I sometimes exclaim "Gordon Bennett!", but until finding that link I personally had no idea it derived from "Gor blimey" (which I also sometimes say, and do know the allusion). And I think there's much to be said for "Land sakes and lawks amussy!" - transparent though it is, to most folk today it would be so odd they wouldn't even think about the "etymology". They'd just be surprised, like the speaker. –  FumbleFingers Mar 5 at 4:31
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For crying out loud! Everyone else just says "For fucks/Pete's/Christ's sake!" Why can't you just follow the herd and use one of those? Or maybe just append "You nit!" or some equally jocular-cum-serious put-down. Me, I use a lot of variations as a matter of principle - if you do it consistently enough, you stop being too self-conscious about it. "Hells bells and buckets of blood!" –  FumbleFingers Mar 5 at 5:09
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@FumbleFingers the day I start saying for crying out loud is the day I know I have become my father. That is not necessarily a bad thing but I'm not quite ready for it yet. I do actually use for fuck's sake but that is not appropriate in all contexts. Anyway, I've already gotten 2 perfectly good answers, though admittedly they just highlight that I didn't think on this long enough since I'm familiar with both. –  terdon Mar 5 at 5:17
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@FumbleFingers 'Bloody Hilda' is alright as long as there are no Hildas in earshot. –  WS2 Mar 5 at 9:17
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@WS2: I pride myself on being able to swear with the best of 'em. Seriously - Ryebread's stereotypical Bostonian (with some kind of fucked-up Broca's area meaning they think an utterance isn't grammatical unless almost every word is "fuck") is just that - a stereotype. Swearing validly (and appropriately!) is even more tricky than speech in general. But I'm sure I've never said "Bloody Hilda!" in my life. I might have heard that one a few times, but for me personally it's always been "Bloody Nora!". –  FumbleFingers Mar 5 at 12:34

25 Answers 25

up vote 62 down vote accepted

Wasn't going to answer this but the phrase invoked childhood memories with the cousins and my great-grandma who was a mild mannered god-loving woman. I don't think I can remember her ever raising her voice and when she said, "For pity's sake" she looked a little guilty, using that kind of strong language around the great-grandkids.

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Ah, yes, dunno if I could use it with a straight face, but that's a good one, +1. I hope it doesn't turn out to be a contraction of for piety's sake or something underhanded like that. –  terdon Mar 5 at 5:15
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For pity's sake means, quite literally, for the sake of pity: out of concern, compassion, sympathy for others. Without sake, for pity, dates from 1484; for pity's sake, from 1619. Also from there: For Pete's sake is a euphemistic version of for God's sake, just as in for the love of Pete. Is this a reference to St Peter? The OED doesn't suggest so, but it may be. The first example is from 1903, which rather knocks on the head the thought that Pete morphed into pity. Have they become blurred? Me, I think so. –  FumbleFingers Mar 5 at 5:18
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Heh, there goes that argument. Thanks @FumbleFingers –  terdon Mar 5 at 5:19
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In short, @RyeBread, I think you've hit on one still-reasonably-common "apparent euphemism for a blasphemy" that actually isn't. A hit! A palpable hit, sir! –  FumbleFingers Mar 5 at 5:20
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@terdon - "Pity" and "piety" both derive from Latin pietas, so... –  MT_Head Mar 5 at 20:35

I'm surprised "For crying out loud!" isn't in here yet.

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Yup, it was mentioned in a comment but not in an answer. –  terdon Mar 5 at 14:37
    
Ahh, indeed it is, Apologies for the commenter, didn't mean to ninja this reply. –  J A Terroba Mar 5 at 19:10
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Don't worry about it, answers posted as comments are fair game. –  terdon Mar 5 at 19:11
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And if you’re not quite ready to turn into your father yet, there’s always the almost ridiculous feeble and bowdlerised For crying in the sink! –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 5 at 20:41
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If you're worried about causing offence, don't say it too fast, or you'll come out with "fuckryinoutloud!" –  Bennett McElwee Mar 6 at 23:25

I believe that there is a famous Christmas song that implores us to be good for goodness' sake. Though this is still a euphemism, it is certainly more secular than God, Christ, or Pete(r).

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Yes, indeed there is, +1. Damn, I should have thought of this myself. The only argument I can muster against it is that I don't much like it. That's nobody's fault but my own though and this answers my question as stated perfectly, thanks. –  terdon Mar 5 at 4:47
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Well God is derived from good... but if terdon feels it suits his needs then I guess it works. I wouldn't say it is secular though. –  RyeɃreḁd Mar 5 at 5:06
    
@RyeBread agreed, but it hides its origins a bit more. I am still looking for a better alternative though. –  terdon Mar 5 at 5:10
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I think that is considered a minced oath because 'goodness' is a sound-alike for 'God'. –  Mitch Mar 5 at 14:04
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@RyeBread: That's a reasonable inference but it turns out not to be true. See etymonline: God "Not related to good.", and [etymonline: good ](etymonline.com/index.php?term=good) –  Mitch Mar 5 at 14:08

Not an established phrase, but how about: "In the name of all that is secular and non-vulgar"?

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Heh, you sir, are cheating! :) –  terdon Mar 5 at 16:02
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I'm all for excessively long exclamatory phrases. ;) –  codedude Mar 6 at 3:34
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Reminds me of the Richard Dawkins episodes of South Park - "Oh my science!" –  Lego Stormtroopr Mar 6 at 4:55
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(Being a Christian myself), this sounds to me more offending than goodness or pity, because it seems to have a strong I-say-this-only-because-I-do-not-say-Christ-while-I-actually-want-to tone. But maybe it's just me... –  tohecz Mar 6 at 11:05
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I don't believe the SO was asking about offensiveness per se. :) –  geotheory Mar 6 at 12:21

How about good grief

See here:

used as an exclamation of dismay, surprise, or relief: Good grief, it's started to rain again!"

For lovers of Charlie Brown out there:

enter image description here

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This is also an option for lovers of Charlie Brown everywhere. :-) –  vogomatix Mar 6 at 12:00
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I added an image just for you –  Danield Mar 6 at 12:07
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My father studied in the US in the '70s so he was accustomed to using "good grief". My current US friends however dismiss it as "old fashioned", "nobody uses it" etc. They even prefer to turn to more vulgar versions... –  Georgios Mar 8 at 11:28
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"Good grief" doesn't really fit here. Try it in either of the OP's examples: "C'mon, it's just a scratch for X's sake!" -- Where does "good grief" fit here? –  user7626 Mar 9 at 20:14
    
@user7626 Maybe: "C'mon, it's just a scratch! Good grief!" Although I agree, it's not quite the same type of phrase. –  augurar Mar 9 at 23:26

"For Pete's sake" is not necessarily a religious idiom; it's used as a pure placeholder noise by many folks who don't associate it with Saint Peter. Certainly "pity" doesn't necessarily signify pity from On High.

There are probably a near-infinitude of circumlocutions, and a true infinitude of exclamations of annoyance/disbelief. If these bother you, then rather than trying to do a one-word substitution I'd suggest trying another approach entirely. "Darn" is another expurgation which has roughly the same meaning. If you want to avoid any connection to "bad language, "Oh, come on!" in an annoyed tone of voice is often used with the same meaning. I sometimes use "By all the gods and demons!" as a deliberately over-the-top phrase with the same intent (and with equal respect/annoyance paid to everyone's favorite pantheon).

There's got to be a thesaurus-equivalent somewhere for English idioms...

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Certainly not everyone who uses "for Pete's sake" associates it with St. Peter. But that doesn't change the origin of the phrase. The same goes with "pity": it's a minced oath. Many phrases with religious origins enter the vernacular and lose the original context. –  ghoppe Mar 5 at 15:05
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In practical terms, I'm not convinced that origin matters. The question seemed (to this reader) to be about finding inoffensive alternatives; I'm pointing out that the "minced oaths" are, for 99.95% of the population, entirely acceptable -- there are very few who are either militantly religious or militantly atheistic enough to be put off by them. –  keshlam Mar 5 at 16:01
    
On that point, I agree. –  ghoppe Mar 5 at 16:02
    
@ghoppe what do you mean about for pity's sake being a minced oath? –  terdon Mar 5 at 16:03
    
@terdon "Pity" is a substitute for "Peter". Apparently for the truly righteous, even invoking the name of Peter was seen as too blasphemous. :) –  ghoppe Mar 5 at 16:06

"For the love of all that is good and decent" has that cathartic feeling of a nice long string of obscenities, without any actual obscenity.

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Flip is used as a bowdlerisation of fuck, at least in the UK. It is quite usual to hear the phrase "For flip's sake!" in situations where fuck is deemed not appropriate.

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So it is, nice one. Thanks. –  terdon Mar 5 at 13:52
    
Also, 'effing'. –  Mitch Mar 5 at 19:47
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Your assertion that "nobody considers flip or flipping to be vulgar" is simply false. Many people do. The communities I was raised in would bend you over a knee if you used "flipping" as a generic intensifying adjective: they would consider it a duplicitous and sneaky attempt to get away with saying the f-word, all the more offensive for its dishonesty as vulgarity. On a slightly different tone, I would recommend the segment from Louis C.K.'s stand-up special "All Chewed Up", where he discusses the euphemism "the n-word" and describes how he finds it more offensive than the n-word itself. –  Marcel Turing Mar 6 at 9:19
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When I had kid's I started replacing my use of f*ck with Fahrvergnügen. –  Mr.Mindor Mar 6 at 15:40
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@MattЭллен you haven't watched shows that replace the word straight out with alternatives - everyone knows what they really mean to say - and if it sounds closer than a bleep or silence... –  Mateo Mar 6 at 17:36

There's already plenty of good answers, but thought I would add my bit.

Euphemism has been used as long as we can tell to allow someone to say something that is otherwise offensive. When Christianity was more popular and taken more seriously, any uttering of God, Jesus, etc outside of the context of prayer or other religious ritual, was offensive. There was even a time when referring to God's wounds or God's body was also offensive.

But there is an innate desire to "curse" under certain circumstances, such as when you stub your toe, or drop your dinner, or hear your wife nag you for the tenth time "Get off that damn SE and take out the trash," to which you readily reply "Oh, for Christ's sake, I'm getting to it!" Why this innate desire exists remains unknown, but it surely does, and there is a wealth of studies on its affect on the psyche.

The innate desire to curse and the religious bindings on certain phrases or words make for prime choices for when a cursing situation does arise. That's why there is an urge to yell out "Christ" when you drop something rather than "Mahatma Ghandi!" Born from that, we get "For Christ's sake", et al. In decades past, your could only say such a thing in private company (somewhat today too), so less offensive terms were coined, such as "For Pete's/goodness/pity's sake," et al. Even more obscure ones, like "For crying out loud" came from the original religious curse. (To hint back on obscure, ancient curses, "God's wounds" became "Zounds" or "Gad zooks" and "God's body" became "Odds bodikins.")

So if you want something this is not religious, even indirectly, you will have to stick to the good old dirties: Shit, Fuck, Bitch, Bastard, and a whole host of body part slurs. And if those are not bad enough in your circle, you can really shock them with an out of context n-word (which even I won't say in mixed company*), such as "ni--a please."


I'm so scared of being called a racist that I won't even say that word in an academic setting. Huh. Seems racism is the new control factor. Move over Jesus; Politically Correct Sally's got this.

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Thanks for your thoughts but none of this, with the possible exception of the last paragraph, seems to be actually attempting to answer my question. –  terdon Mar 6 at 1:12
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@terdon A simple word/phrase search is no fun without a little explanation. It all leads up to the last paragraph. The problem is that you are asking for something that is not offensive that is by nature supposed to be offensive. –  fredsbend Mar 6 at 1:13
    
The last paragraph is telling me that I have to use one of the profane ones if I am to avoid using religious terms. Yet, you provide no reference for what is a rather weeping claim, not to mention one that is disproved by sever posts on this page. Sorry, but nigger (assuming that's the word you mean) is both way too offensive to be useful (to me at least) and completely irrelevant to this question. I am not looking for an insult but an exclamation akin to for fuck's sake!. –  terdon Mar 6 at 1:18
    
@terdon I thought the implication I made here is that you are going to end up using a religious one, whether you want to or not, if you want to avoid offense to today's audience, and the euphemisms for those will make you sound dated and ridiculous. If you are concerned with blasphemy, which I assume is the root of this question, the Bible urges you to hold your tongue and say nothing. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. –  fredsbend Mar 6 at 1:27
    
Thanks again, but no, I'm not concerned about blasphemy. Quite the contrary, I like to avoid using religious terminology because I am not religious so I feel I should avoid it both because I don't like it, and because I might offend people who are religious. In this particular case, the question arose because I wanted to write something along the lines of it's just a book for fuck's sake as an SE comment and did not want to be vulgar (or use judeo-christian imagery). –  terdon Mar 6 at 1:34

The phrase "Oh for fuck's sake" is sadly all too commonly heard around my office. I'm trying to teach myself comedic alternatives such as "Oh sausages!", but that just makes me feel hungry. Non offensive alternatives to "For heaven's sake" include For goodness sake, for pity's sake and for Pete's sake - although I don't know who Pete is?

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Pete is probably Saint Peter, hence this alternative (mentioned in my OP) is also non-secular. –  terdon Mar 5 at 16:02
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you could channel Pooh, and use 'bother!' ( or 'botheration!' if greater emphasis is needed). –  dnagirl Mar 5 at 17:47
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Thanks a lot, now I'm hungry! –  Brian Knoblauch Mar 5 at 20:59
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@Brian, oh for pete's sake! Go grab some food. –  Arlaud Pierre Mar 7 at 12:45

I probably had a "for goodness sake, Mark!" yelled at me at least once a day during my childhood. Although it sounds like a corruption of "for the sake of God" (which I've always thought it was) and would therefore be disqualified as a non-secular phrase, this site http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/for-goodness-sake suggests that it isn't. Make of that what you will!

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I'm not sure I believe the rather interesting theory that it's a sanitised version of "Christ on a cross" (cf the overtly blasphemous "Jesus Christ on a bike!"), but I've always been partial to...

"Stone the crows!"

Apparently the general consensus is it's primarily/originally an Australian term, but I quite liked a Scottish rock band of that name in my early teens, so it's always seemed perfectly "British" to me.

The more common (and more definitely, British) "Stone me!" doesn't strike me as blasphemous.

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Nice ones, but they can't be used in It's not that hard for X's sake. –  terdon Mar 7 at 17:47
    
@terdon: Well yes, but I already dismissed all variants of "for X's sake!" in my initial comment, on the grounds that they are all transparently derived from / allude to the blasphemous originals. But I'd certainly accept that these stone expressions don't work quite so well appended to a preceding exasperated statement. That's the same for most expressions though, including the ubiquitous "Fuck me!", or my personal favourite variant "Fuck my old boots!". –  FumbleFingers Mar 7 at 18:11
    
Why don't you add your Land's sake or sakes as well? –  terdon Mar 7 at 18:15
    
@terdon: Because although I said people won't necessarily be put in mind of the blasphemous allusions (which you don't want), that's only because they'd be so surprised to hear you come out with such a quaint expression. I'd have thought the reference would be obvious to most people once they stopped to think about it. –  FumbleFingers Mar 7 at 18:18
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@terdon: I rather doubt that, since it's not an English/British expression at all. It's just a stereotypical exclamation assumed to have been used by "Big Momma" negroes (negresses?) on plantations in the American "Deep South" during those shameful days of slavery. And they were always assumed to be devout Christians, since that was the only comfort they would find in their benighted lives. –  FumbleFingers Mar 7 at 18:45

Why not "For All's sake"! All in this context is ambiguous an may refer to anyone, any group, or any member of any group which gives it the possibility of being blasphemous. Due to this ambiguity it fits the context of not having any religious nor vulgar association with the phrase but is capable of conveying frustration.

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I can totally relate to this question. I dislike using religious references because I dislike religion, and I sometimes want to avoid using vulgarity because it might offend people and is not good in a professional setting. I use "good grief" a lot. A favorite one that gets quite a lot of use is "Are You Kidding Me?????" My pool guy was outside fixing our pump the other day, and that's what he yelled out every time he encountered something that made him want to swear :)
'Course sometimes it devolves into "are you fucking kidding me????"

It really bugs me that when I am very surprised by something (like when my son sneaks up behind me and scare me half to death, the first words out of my mouth are inevitably "jesus fucking christ." There has got to be a way to change that habit.

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Come to think of it, my German grandfather had an expression that he used rather than cuss: "DONNERVETTER!!!!" - "thunder weather" in German. When he shouted it I can tell you it was impressive - but once it was translated for me it sounded kind of silly. :-) –  Bob Jarvis Mar 10 at 2:24

By the beard of zeus! .

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Ancient religions are religions too. –  Tim Seguine Mar 6 at 21:09
    
This is technically true but no one is going to think that you follow those religions or likely to be offended by the use. Which I assume was the point of the question? Also it is a quote from Anchorman :) –  JamesRyan Mar 7 at 1:11
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Can we talk about Warcraft's Muradin's beard? –  Arlaud Pierre Mar 7 at 12:46
    
I had a friend back in grade school who decided to worship the Norse pantheon. Didn't seem to do him much good, but on the other hand it didn't seem to do him any harm. He was kind of a weird kid - had a couple of big crows as pets... –  Bob Jarvis Mar 10 at 2:05

"For goodness' sake," as suggested by Santa Claus(!) is strictly speaking the best answer to your question, but if you expand its scope a little then there are lots of great alternatives.
My Child-safe swear words page lists some appropriate ones, such as

  • Oh, Bother (said Pooh)
  • Dear oh dear [oh dear [oh dear [oh dear]]]

And many more, including my favourite:

  • My Giddy Aunt!
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Thanks, but I'm not after swear words (or their replacements), I'm basically looking for an alternative to for fuck's sake. –  terdon Mar 7 at 2:56
    
You're not looking for a replacement for a swear word, but you are looking for an alternative to "for fuck's sake"? Hmmm. I still swear :) by "dear oh dear" (and "dear oh dear oh dear", etc.) as being a totally inoffensive expression of frustration. –  Bennett McElwee Mar 7 at 6:57
    
Well, I've always like "Oh, jefuss chucking zrist!". Everybody thinks they know exactly what you've said, but it's really all in their nasty little minds, now isn't it..? My only problem with this is that in the heat of the moment I have a hard time slowing down enough to say it right. :-) –  Bob Jarvis Mar 9 at 0:10
    
@Bob, unless you're very pedantic I think that fails on both secularity and inoffensiveness. ;) –  Bennett McElwee Mar 9 at 9:13
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@BennettMcElwee - say it long and say it loud, I'm pedantic and I'm prone to go off on what some might describe as rants on topics which others either do not care (sufficiently, IMO) about or are shockingly uninformed about, fools that these mortals be. But bother me? Oh, perish the thought, idea, concept, or speculation! :-) –  Bob Jarvis Mar 10 at 2:03

"Cripes!"

(StackExchange apparently requires answers to be greater than 30 characters. Cramping my style, they are.)

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"Cripes!" is a bowdlerization of "Christ!" –  stimpy77 Mar 9 at 21:03
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How about "By the bilious beard of Bowdler!". –  Bob Jarvis Mar 10 at 2:14

My mother, when her temper was too much tried, would sometimes shout in a voice of rising hysteria 'Good-Gorton-TANK!!' Nobody knew what it meant, but it cowed us.

Thanks to google however I now know 'Gorton Tank' was once a factory which made locomotives in the Gorton area of Manchester, England. Why it became an expletive I'm not sure. I think, though, if you're in America you could try shouting out 'Good Gorton Tank!' in moments of intense emotion. No-one will understand it there either, which adds to the effect.

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Thanks but please read the question again. I am looking for an alternative for the `come on!_ meaning of the term, not the godammit! one. –  terdon Mar 5 at 20:35
    
'For the love of Mike'? Though there are sites which claim it's a reference to the Archangel Michael. –  slam Mar 5 at 21:24
    
I would think that is about Michael as well, yes. –  terdon Mar 5 at 21:26

First: Language is a tool that is used to convey thoughts with words. For heaven's sake conveys a certain euphemism, but it does not declare the speaker as a Christian (or member of any religion that recognizes Heaven). It simply is what it is. Like saying Bless you when somebody sneezes. The phrase's origins are non-secular (the blessing is to ward out the Devil, who was said to be able to enter the body during a sneeze) but today it is just accepted as a common courtesy. And I don't think most people associate For Pete's sake as a reference to Saint Peter, but rather as a secular alternative to For Heaven's sake.

But since you ruled out For Pete's sake, I think the best answer is, For crying out loud, but that was already given. Also, you said you want sake at the end. So simply be specific. For the scratch, you might say, for sanity's sake and for the lie, either for honesty's sake or for honor's sake (for honour's sake if you're not American). These may be grammatically correct, but don't roll off the tongue as smoothly. Plus, they make the listener stop and think a minute about what you are trying to say. They are not as effective of tools as For Pete's/Heaven's sake, so far as language is a tool and you (ostensibly) want to be a more efficient user of language.

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I've got Hindu and Muslim friends who use the expression, "Oh, my God!" regularly. I just smile quietly to myself. :-) –  Bob Jarvis Mar 10 at 2:13

You could also consider trying to express the same sentiment in a different form; sticking to the "for ____['s sake]" template kind of limits your options. Allowing some flexibility lets you avoid nonsecular/vulgar while maintaining your usual style (i.e. you won't become your dad).

For example:

C'mon, it's just a scratch for X's sake!

  • You've got to be kidding... it's just a scratch!
  • C'mon, it's just a scratch, you big baby!
  • Seriously, it's just a scratch! Get over it!
  • Stop crying and pull yourself together!

That's not even true for X's sake!

  • What's wrong with you? That's not even true!
  • That's a joke, right?
  • That's not true and you know it!
  • You can't honestly believe that!

As for the original form, I also vote for "for goodness' sake" or "for crying out loud".

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One of the other dads at the gym where my daughter trains is a doctor (emergency room physician - great guy to have around when your daughters spend half their lives upside down :-). The other day his daughter's foot got caught under an opening door and got cut - nothing serious, but lots of blood. His response: "You're fine. If it's still bleeding when we get home I'll stitch you up. Let's go". –  Bob Jarvis Mar 10 at 2:18

Perhaps the use of a made-up word would fit the bill in this case.

I know I started using them when I had kids, in order to avoid teaching them to swear before they learned to walk.

We generally use "gnarf", as it is nicely onomatopaeic in my opinion. "For gnarf's sake!" works well in my family. And since I'm the one who coined it, I can vouch for there being no religious connotations at all.

We also use "for the love of Dog", referring to an actual dog, now deceased. I can see why it would count as a minced oath, though.

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A bit restricted in audience perhaps, but Nancy's classic

Jib-booms and bobstays!

expresses the sentiment perfectly. My boat has a bobstay. I aspire to a jib-boom.

http://arthur-ransome.wikia.com/wiki/Swearwords_and_insults

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Here's another one: Goodness gracious!

Exclamation of surprise, dismay, or alarm

As in:

Goodness gracious! You've forgotten your ticket.

(dicionary.com)

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Thanks for the answer, please read the entire question, not just the title. –  terdon Mar 9 at 15:18

Over the weekend I remembered from the film, "It's a Wonderful Life", when the character "Bert" the policeman, tells George Bailey, "What in the Sam Hill you yellin for, George." The saying seems to have originated from Prescott, Arizona and to a mercantile store owner by the name of Sam Hill. He had a vast array of products where people shopping would remark, "What in the Sam Hill is that?" or something similar. At one time it became a popular euphemism but in my life I remember it only from a movie. WHAT IN THE SAM HILL? is non-vulgar and without reference to religion. Kind of a funny saying worthy of being used again in our conversations.

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How about: "For the life of me!" See the Urban Dictionary here.

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Thanks, but no, I'm looking for Oh come on, for X's sake and for the life of me means something very different. –  terdon Mar 5 at 19:21

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