People usually use the word "Holy" before "Shit", "Crap" or any other bad words to express their feelings, like surprise, anger, etc. Is there any reason why the word "Holy" is used with these bad words?

I think the words "shit", "crap", etc are considered as bad words while "Holy" is considered as spiritual or something related to God (usually used to mention something related with God), Right? So is it used with the bad words to neutralize the bad words?

Here is the link to another question related with the same subject that came into my mind after reading all the answers and comments here. How the phrase 'Holy s***' is formed?

Please help me find an answer for that question.

  • 2
    Due to SE regulations I have to edit your title, sorry. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 7 '14 at 7:26
  • 5
    I agree with this logic. You'd think they'd pair the swear words with something "evil" like hell or devil or something – Raestloz Oct 7 '14 at 7:45
  • 20
    @Raestloz but in the past Christianity had an incredible hold over people; the church represented God on earth, salvation, purity, perfection etc. Thus the pairing of something so pure and good such as Holy (son of God) with excrement is extremely blasphemous, and increases the taboo factor tenfold! – Mari-Lou A Oct 7 '14 at 8:00
  • 5
    originally was exposed to the "Holy" adjective from old Batman and Robin episodes. – stephenbayer Oct 7 '14 at 16:34
  • 6
    Please do not ask more than one question per question. Please ask supplementary questions as new questions: link to this one to tie everything together. – Andrew Leach Oct 8 '14 at 18:24

Holy is often used with bad words as an intensifier:

  • (Informal) Used as an intensive: raised holy hell over the mischief their children did.

(The Free Dictionary)

The following interesting comment explains its usage:

  • Things holy were once referred to Medieval times in oaths and blaspheming, such as "s'blood" (god's blood) etc. Many cultures worst swear-words are formed by pairing something holy with something profane. Pairing these realms is culturally an expletive, is shocking, an unnatural pairing. "Holy shit" is an extension of this.


  • 7
    @AeJey no, it means it's exactly the same holy as that related to gods. Think about why you are calling words like shit "swear words"; to swear is to make an oath and is a holy thing, but to do so in a profane manner is taboo. Indeed once the taboo against saying "Oh my god!" would have been greater than that of "Oh shit!". – Jon Hanna Oct 7 '14 at 11:22
  • 12
    @AeJey because when we swear, we're deliberately breaking the taboo. Why people do that is a complicated and interesting matter (more of psychology than usage), but to the extent that it does, "Holy Shit" is a "worse" swear than just "Shit" and so better-serves the purpose of shocking, relieving tension, expressing a strong emotion, etc. – Jon Hanna Oct 7 '14 at 11:47
  • 2
    Judas Priest (the expression, not the band) is an example of that second thing. – Jasmine Oct 7 '14 at 17:09
  • 3
    @AeJey Saying 'Holy God' might be (or might formerly have been) seen as worse, more taboo: because it's blasphemous. So "Holy Jeez" or "Holy shit" might be less taboo, what's called a Minced oath. – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 20:17
  • 2
    Holy answers, Batman! – Robin Goodfellow Oct 7 '14 at 21:37

Three of the most central origins of curse words are excrement, sexual acts (or organs), and blasphemies (sacred words used inappropriately). Although blasphemies are now considered mild in most contexts, in more religious times, they were considered much more shocking than they are now.

As expressions lose their shock value, they need to be intensified to maintain their value as curses. Thus, an expression that combines a blasphemy with excrement or sexual acts is particularly shocking, so the adjective "Holy" is added to intensify the "wrongness" of the curse. It's also an echo of a time in which the term "Holy __" would have been taken literally as blasphemously referring to an actual attribute of God.

  • 3
    In Québecois French the strongest curse words are still blasphemies. The worst are tabernacle and ciboire (two objects used in the mass). But they often combined as taboire, which is only a minced oath! – Matthew Leingang Oct 8 '14 at 13:50
  • 1
    Sorry I have no source, but I read about a adolescent chimp was taught sign language and called a partner "you green shit" – Jesvin Jose Oct 8 '14 at 13:54
  • 1
    In Holland they wish diseases upon each other more than anything. It is quite disturbing. – mplungjan Oct 9 '14 at 5:44

This use of "Holy" with swear words is a case of euphemism. It was once considered more offensive to say "Holy Christ" when there was no actual intention to call on the name of Christ. Hence, lesser forms were used, such as "Holy hell/crap/shit."

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. The word Holy seems to have found its way into cursing phrases all the same.

There is an innate desire to "curse" under certain circumstances, such as when you stub your toe, or drop your dinner, or get a terrible fright when someone jumps at you, to which you might yell, "Holy shit!" In this context, calling out to God is actually appropriate. You are terrified and you immediately have images of your safety in mind, which leads to prayers of all kinds. Yelling "Oh, God," in earnest is appropriate. But sometimes the earnestness is lost, even among the believers. They don't necessarily want to call out to God at this moment, but the exclamation still comes, though skewed. Why this innate desire exists remains unknown, but it surely does, and there is a wealth of studies on its affect on the psyche. One thing that is known is that the more taboo the curse the more effect it has.

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 "Holy, Christ" when something startles you rather than "Mahatma Ghandi!" Born from that, we get all sorts of curses involving religious words. In decades past, your could only say such a thing in private company (somewhat today too), so less offensive terms were coined, such as "Holy Hell/Crap/Shit" et al. Any derivative of Holy something comes from this originally extremely religious phrase "Holy Christ" or "Holy God".

  • 2
    Where did you read that "holy shit" is a euphemism? Definition: a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. – Mari-Lou A Oct 7 '14 at 16:29
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA I believe shit is considered much worse than it used to be. "Holy Christ" or God is the phrase that was originally offensive many years ago, when said flippantly. So "Holy [anything else]" is the euphemism from the original phrase. Today any of the Holy variants is probably distasteful to most people, but such is the life of a euphemism, inevitably taking on the very taboo that they intended to replace. – user39425 Oct 7 '14 at 19:02
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA Oh it is strong language, I'm not denying that ... but not blasphemous. I think it's literally a "minced oath", which Wikipedia defines as A minced oath is a **euphemistic** expression formed by misspelling, mispronouncing, or replacing a part of a profane, blasphemous, or taboo term to reduce the original term's objectionable characteristics. Some examples include gosh instead of god etc. Not mild or inoffensive, but relatively mild or inoffensive compared to "Holy God", "Holy Christ", etc. – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 20:23
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA Yes you did, and there it is: "euphemistic" is the first word in the definition of a "minced oath". – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 20:41
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA There's a religious context (and the English-speaking world used to be pretty universally Christian), "Holy God" is blasphemous, it's breaking the seventh of the Ten Commandments, it's not so much offensive to the audience as offensive to God. It's a sin, shockingly bad, shameful. "Shit" isn't in the same league. "Holy" is in front of non-God words e.g. in front of swear-words, because it's being used as a minced oath, i.e. as a euphemism ... though it's also true that you can view that as a "profanity" in its own right. – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 21:05

Profanity used to be synonymous with blasphemy and in many cultures, it still is (the French "bodel de...", blood of, is acceptable so long as you don't finish it with "Dieu", God. Indeed, I have heard older people expressing surprise with "Holy", followed by actual Christian references and then feeling shocked at themselves. Instead, to get around the blasphemy taboo while still retaining the right to an expletive, they get adapted in various ways. Gawd in Heaven becomes Gordon Bennett, Jesus H. Christ is obviously not the actual Messiah because he has a different middle name and since excrement is obviously not holy then it's not blasphemous.

  • 3
    Excrement is not holy? Excrement is derived from food, and some cultures pray before consuming food. For those people, those same materials in the excrement were blessed only hours previous. – dotancohen Oct 7 '14 at 12:07
  • 5
    "bodel" isn't a French word, and does not mean 'blood'. "bordel" means 'brothel', fwiw. – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 19:42

An older, more widespread expression used to exclaim surprise (up until the Eighties) was "Holy cow!":

Holy Cow! dates to at least 1905. The earliest known appearance of the phrase was in a tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor: "A lover of the cow writes to this column to protest against a certain variety of Hindoo oath having to do with the vain use of the name of the milk producer. These profane exclamations, 'holy cow!' and, 'By the stomach of the eternal cow!'" The phrase was used by baseball players at least as early as 1913 and probably much earlier. The phrase appears to have been adopted as a means to avoid penalties for using obscene or indecent language and may have been based on a general awareness of the holiness of cows in some religious traditions.

I suspect that over the decades, the original phrase lost its effect, so people gravitated to more colorful nouns (the Batman TV series as one example). I don't remember people switching to substitutes like "Holy shit!" until the Eighties.

  • 2
    This answer suggests that 'holy cow' is "an old expression" but is not "the original" expression. – ChrisW Oct 10 '14 at 8:38
  • Good catch. I wasn't aware of the "oath" antecedents. – Gameboy70 Oct 11 '14 at 19:25

Isn't it from Bat Man and Robin?

"Holy bad-guys Bat Man"


Holy refers to 'supreme' or 'ultimate' power. Thus, 'holy crap' refers to an exclamatory level of 'ultimate crap' ... not just your ordinary level of crap. 'Holy crap' is the 'crappiest' of crap. It is erroneous to tie it to blasphemy for it is used in other contexts also such as 'holy smoke', 'holy cow', 'holy Toledo', 'holy jumping jackrabbits' (an example for those that would argue 'holy smoke' and 'holy cow' have other references)

  • 2
    No, Holy refers to 'set apart [for]' or 'dedicated [to]', mainly used with respect to deity. – Umbrella Oct 8 '14 at 19:39
  • 1
    Yep. -1 for being completely wrong. – user39425 Oct 9 '14 at 3:43

Is there any reason why the word "Holy" is used with these bad words?

Holy means God, and God is a big deal right? So crap is just crap, but God's crap is like, Holy Crap!

Your problem is you understand "holy" as an endearing or positive term. It really isn't, calling someone "holy" would imply arrogant or aloof or full of themselves. It is really a reference to the power of the Heavens and God, and when God is pissed off, even Satan runs for cover.


Whatever indiscretion is committed by helpless or intensely blurted out second word is washed out a priori by the first adjective invoking something to the contrary.The speaker feels himself guiltless or forgiven for delivering a curse word. Such contradictory pairs exist in many languages.

  • 1
    You are saying that people do this because they feel worse if they just say "shit" compared to "holy shit"? First, I think you need a source. Second, I think it's wrong. – user39425 Oct 9 '14 at 3:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.