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I wanted to use the phrase "God forbid" the other day, but really wanted to avoid the religious connotations that may come along with it. I was stumped while thinking of a replacement or variation.

I like the way the phrase "flows" or "feels" when interjected like this:

You could do X if, God forbid, Y doesn't happen.

I know "heaven forbid" is common, but that's the type of thing I'm trying to avoid. Are there any similar phrases that could be used in such a way, or even a good replacement word for "God/heaven" which would work here and still sound natural?

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@Thursagen: I see my post has been edited to use the capitalization of "god" but not "heaven". What is the logic behind that, and is there a reason this is unacceptable? I intentionally used lowercase. See: Is "Thank god", as opposed to "Thank God", acceptable? EDIT: Nevermind, I see: When should the word "God" be capitalized? –  Wesley Murch Aug 20 '11 at 11:13
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Whether religious, a believer, or not, "God" is used as a name in this case and hence capitalised; you will find using no capitals in are used in "gods", or "a god" when referring to a class of being - such as "the Greek gods", or even "Your god". –  Grant Thomas Aug 20 '11 at 11:17
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...as for "heaven", that also depends on whether you intend to mean a heaven, or the Heaven. –  Grant Thomas Aug 20 '11 at 11:24
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To me it is strange that anyone thinks that "God forbid" or "thank god" or "Oh my God" have religious connotations. Isn't this being overliteral? I certainly don't actually think of God when/if I say "Oh my God". –  ShreevatsaR Aug 20 '11 at 13:40
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Names and specific places are capitalized. It's proper grammar. Whether you believe in someone or not is a different question. I don't like Adolf Hitler, but I still capitalized his name because it's a grammatical rule. –  Justin Holden Oct 17 '11 at 0:56

5 Answers 5

up vote 36 down vote accepted

Aside from the phrases "God forbid" and "Heaven (or heaven) forbid" which could be construed to have religious connotations, this site suggests perish the thought. On the entry for this phrase, the site writes:

Don't even think of it. This expression is used as a wish that what was just mentioned will never happen. For example, "He's going to give another speech? Perish the thought!"

This phrase appeared in Handel's oratorio Joshua (1748; text by Thomas Morell): “It never shall be said that our allies in vain implor'd our aid. Perish the thought!” Also see god forbid.

There are further examples here of its use, writing:

If you should become ill—perish the thought—I'd take care of you.

I'm afraid that we need a new car. Perish the thought.

Like "God forbid!", "perish the thought" can be used both parenthetically in the middle of a sentence, and as a phrase more on its own. For your specific example, you could say:

You could do X if, perish the thought, Y doesn't happen.

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This works very well, and sounds cool at the same time. Thanks, for the idea - I had forgotten about this phrase. This works for me but I will leave this question open for the day in case anyone else has something they want to add. –  Wesley Murch Aug 20 '11 at 11:57
    
@Wesley--I completely understand. I didn't remember the phrase until I did some searching. Then you hear it, and you know you've heard it before and it all makes sense. –  simchona Aug 20 '11 at 11:59
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This fits the bill, yet it feels archaic and somewhat prissy. Still, "God forbid" has a toe across that same threshold, so ... –  Robusto Aug 20 '11 at 12:08

Simchona's perish the thought works nicely there, but I might also suggest knock on wood (or touch wood depending on your particular region) which replaces the religious connotation with something closer to superstition. It has a similar feel in that you're trying to ask for some sort of protection from the terrible event you're about to mention.

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knock on wood is also based on the superstition but I personally prefer it to God forbid. –  Isaac Aug 20 '11 at 16:24
    
I've never heard of the "touch wood" version, but this certainly works too - and is probably something I'd actually say. As Robusto commented, "perish the thought" does sound a bit "prissy" and "archaic". It seems the kind of thing you are more likely to see in writing than hear in speech, whereas "knock on wood" I've heard a million times. It doesn't seem to carry quite the same weight as "God forbid", but it's certainly an option and it seems there are not many other phrases that would work as a replacement here. –  Wesley Murch Aug 20 '11 at 17:43
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I don't think this is a drop in replacement because it's almost always used in the opposite direction ... affirming that something SHOULD happen rather than hoping it doesn't. "As long as the shipment comes in on time, knock on wood, we'll have your product on the shelves tomorrow." vs. "As long as nothing happens to the shipment, God forbid, we'll have your product on the shelves tomorrow." –  Caleb Aug 20 '11 at 19:30
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Both your "wood" alternatives mean the complete opposite of "god forbid" (except nowhere near so strongly, I feel). –  FumbleFingers Aug 20 '11 at 23:41
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In my experience, “knock on wood” is US/Canadian usage, “touch wood” is UK. (Not sure about the rest of the Commonwealth.) –  PLL Aug 22 '11 at 1:29

I was surprisingly unable to find any reference to this phrase here on EL&U or the internet in general, but since we seem to be pulling at straws here I will offer another possibility:

shudder to think

I'm vaguely familiar with the term, and this was the only reference I could find:

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/I+shudder+to+think
I dread/shudder to think
something that you say when you do not want to think about something because it is too worrying or too unpleasant (usually + question word)
He was going so fast - I dread to think what would have happened if my brakes hadn't worked.

Apparently "Shudder to Think" is a rock band, which may have been clogging up my search results. Anyways, I'm not certain this is appropriate usage, but it sounds reasonable to me (albeit not something I would personally care to say):

You could do X if, shudder to think, Y doesn't happen.

In cases where you would use "God forbid" at the beginning of a sentence:

He can't drive. God forbid he gets behind the wheel.

...It doesn't work as well, but it still can:

He can't drive. I shudder/dread to think what would happen if he gets behind the wheel.

Quite a mouthful compared to "God forbid", but it seems this phrase is usually sandwiched between by "I/we" and "what would/could/would have happen(ed) if".

Once again, I'm not certain if the first example is proper usage or not, but if so - it seems to be a decent replacement.

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You are looking for a synonym of "God" or "Heaven"; a synonym for either word would still have the same religious connotation that you are trying to avoid.

You could use something along the lines of:

You could do X as long as Y doesn't happen.

This way there is no religious connotation and you still make your point.

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Not looking for a synonym for "God" or "Heaven", the idea is to not have religious connotations. "as long as" works but it doesn't have much flavor. –  Wesley Murch Aug 20 '11 at 11:54
    
My mistake then, perhaps I misunderstood this part of your question: "...or even a good replacement word for "God/heaven" which would work here and still sound natural?" –  RGW1976 Aug 20 '11 at 11:59
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@RGW I think he meant in terms of a replacement more than a synonym--like using "Spaghetti Monster forbid". –  simchona Aug 20 '11 at 12:00
    
@simchona: Exactly. I was thinking "Saturn forbid" or something but I guess that's still a god, and sounds kind of... stupid. RGW1976: Not my downvote, I still appreciate the advice despite the misunderstanding. –  Wesley Murch Aug 20 '11 at 12:01
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The problem with as long as is it doesn't really mean any more than if in OP's original. I'm assuming the God forbid part is intended to convey the speaker's earnest wish that Y will in fact happen. Try swapping your offering into, for example, You could remarry if, God forbid, your wife doesn't survive the operation. It's not really the same with "as long as". –  FumbleFingers Aug 20 '11 at 16:40

You could say "Dare I say [it]!" or, "[I] dread the thought!"

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