I have heard some people utter "Marco Polo" in distress or shocking cases. Is it slang? Or is it used as something else? Can someone great as Marco Polo be used as an abusive word?

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    were they trying to find somebody, or pretending they couldn't find somebody? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marco_Polo_(game) Jul 5, 2013 at 11:45
  • Perhaps it's used (regionally?) as a substitute for a more offensive expletive such as "Jesus H. Christ!" Jul 5, 2013 at 14:57
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    @Kristina: Richard M. Nixon! I'm with you. Many folks find traditional expletives offensive for some reason, so they use less a common one, or invent their own – one that might be much less likely to offend. I remember when my Dad was exasperated, he'd sometimes mutter, "Sacramento, California." I think he just liked the rhythm of the syllables. Anyway, back to the O.P.'s question: any name can be used as an "abusive word," I think; it's more related to the tone of the speaker than the person behind the name.
    – J.R.
    Jul 5, 2013 at 15:04
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    It may be used as a polite alternative to motherf...er. Just a shot in the dark but the rhythm of the two is similar.
    – terdon
    Jul 5, 2013 at 18:00
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    @J.R. Your Dad might also have been influenced by the fact that Sacramento is named after the Holy Sacrament and sometimes called Sacred City. Jul 6, 2013 at 21:34

4 Answers 4


No, to my knowledge it is neither slang as such nor offensive in any way. One possibility is that Marco Polo is being used as a substitute for Motherfu..er. The rhythm is similar and Marco is close enough to Mother to give it a nice alliterative ring.

I have never heard it used this way and it is definitely neither offensive nor vulgar. However, if you have heard people use it as an expletive, they are probably using it because it is an alliteration of the other word. Think of it as an equivalent to words like darn or drat replacing damn.

  • While that's a reasonable assumption, even if that's what the speaker intends, to answer the OP's question, "Marco Polo" is not slang or abusive language. Jul 6, 2013 at 18:01

This is an example of an unusual euphemism (warning: tvtropes).

Over time, euphemisms tend to pick up vulgar connotations of their own, a phenomenon called the euphemism treadmill. For example, toilet was once an innocent word meaning “a dressing room” (1819) but eventually became a euphemism for “lavatory or porcelain plumbing fixture” (1895). Now, toilet is itself a vulgar word, replaced in polite company with other euphemisms like restroom (1899) or powder room (1936).

To avoid the appearance of impropriety, people often use idiosyncratic euphemisms instead of established ones. That appears to be the case for Marco Polo! here, which does not turn up in Google searches for euphemisms or expletives. As others have noted, it has a similar cadence to Motherf—er! (or perhaps Jesus Christ!), much like the minced oath Cheese and Rice!

Because the whole point of an unusual euphemism is to use an entirely innocent word (which expresses vulgarity only by context), you needn't worry about people misunderstanding Marco Polo in other contexts.

  • If you wanna quote tvtropes, let's add this one, quite relevant to the original question, if I may. May 30, 2014 at 10:13

Originally the explorer Marco Polo was separated from his family while traveling in China.

His family would yell "Marco" to get him and he would shout "Polo" back.

This somehow developed in a game in a swimming pool.

It has NO OTHER meaning, not vulgar nor abusive.

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    Interestingly, a similar explanation attaches to the paradox inventor Zeno, who accompanied a Greek mercenary army on its travels through Persia and points north. Every time someone tried to reach him by landline (this being before cell phones were invented), his parents would find themselves calling out, "Zeno! Phone!" And that's how the author of Anabasis got his nom de plume.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 10, 2017 at 0:12

The word Marco Polo is not a slang word people utter it when they are looking for something and can't find it.

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    This is the first time I've encountered it in any context other than as a person's name. Can you please expand your answer explain when, where, why, how it is used in this manner? And preferably also it's derivation.
    – TrevorD
    Jul 5, 2013 at 12:30
  • Sam, so Anglophones, differently from Italians, don't use "Pluto" in that context?
    – user19148
    Jul 5, 2013 at 12:59
  • @Carlo_R. I don't understand your meaning nor your link to a cartoon dog - but no we don't! "Pluto" is a planet.
    – TrevorD
    Jul 5, 2013 at 14:10
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    @TrevorD, Pluto is no longer a planet...universetoday.com/13573/why-pluto-is-no-longer-a-planet ...but it is Mickey Mouse's dog. The times they change, don't they? :-) Jul 5, 2013 at 14:54
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    @Carlo_R., we say "killing two birds with one stone" hee hee! ;-) Jul 6, 2013 at 15:30

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