Many (particularly sci-fi) shows or books invent words to replace real words, for example 'frak' in Battlestar Galactica replaces the 'F' word to get through censorship.

Is there a word to describe a word like 'frak', a word used in place of another? Not necessarily always replacing a curse word, I'm only using this as an example. My first thoughts were proxy or intimation but that's not quite right.

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    The term is "euphemism" if the intent is to "get through censorship". A euphemism is a word that is intended to mean the same thing as a taboo word, but to give off less dangerous taboo radiation when said. Like What the heck" instead of "What the hell". Apr 27, 2015 at 18:08
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    Are you looking for a word to describe the writers' act of replacing a recognizeable word with a different one, or are you looking for one to describe the way words are replaced by culture over time (as is likely the case with frak, which evolved in the BG universe from our modern day curse word, or similarly Firefly's gorrammit)?
    – talrnu
    Apr 27, 2015 at 19:35
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    I don't think this is a euphemism at all. I think the writers intend us to understand that the characters are in fact swearing in full force. The author is just taking advantage of the fictional universe to avoid having to use the actual offensive words of ours: in other words, the swearing isn't being softened, it's being fictionalized. Apr 27, 2015 at 19:36
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    People seem to have become hung up on the curse words, even though you clearly asked about all such words. Perhaps answers should be evaluated in light of how well they describe all of the other words you ask about, like "millo", "centar", "centon", and so forth. Currency and time are definitely not curses and oaths.
    – JdeBP
    Apr 28, 2015 at 7:57
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    @ghoppe My question uses a swear word as an example, but it's only an example. I was after a word used in a more generic context - see JdeBP's comment
    – RichK
    Apr 28, 2015 at 16:17

6 Answers 6


When it is obvious which swearword is being euphemized, then it is a minced oath (wikipedia):

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, darn or dang for damn, and heck for hell.

  • I knew there was something beyond just "euphemism" for this!
    – Smithers
    Apr 27, 2015 at 19:33
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    As @LeeDanielCrocker points out in a comment on the question, this doesn't seem to apply to frak. For example, a child could get away with saying "darn it" instead of "damn it" to strict parents, but a child (within the Battlestar Galactica universe, at least) could probably not get away with saying "frak" to strict parents. The word is "minced" for the audience only, it still has exactly the same social impact in its world that the real version of the word does in the real world.
    – talrnu
    Apr 27, 2015 at 19:49

I offer bowdlerism, the noun form of the verb

bowdlerise/ize: to remove passages or words regarded as indecent from (a play, novel, etc); expurgate


Euphemism. Some words familiar to you may have started out that way: gosh, golly and others are actually God, Sheesh is Jesus rather than a kebab, while on the other side you have darn, tarnation and so forth. TANJ.

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    "...not necessarily always replacing a curse word"
    – talrnu
    Apr 27, 2015 at 19:31
  • @Wayne's "mince oath" below is new to me, and I appreciate it!
    – David Pugh
    Apr 27, 2015 at 19:42
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    The 5 minutes got me. What I finally meant to say was this: Well, God and Jesus aren't curse words, unless that includes what you say when your puta crashes yet again..... @Wayne's "minced oath" below is new to me, much obliged! I have heard it said, might be a legend, that "bloody" is a contraction of "By Our Lady". TH White uses it that way, with Merlin (who is travelling backwards in time and remembers company water) cussing about now having to draw from the by-our-lady well.
    – David Pugh
    Apr 27, 2015 at 19:50
  • Another difference is that euphemisms make a matter less offensive by changing the reference invoked. Gosh, golly, sheesh, etc., are not really euphemisms as such (in the narrow sense): they don’t try to refer to something by invoking a less offensive image, they just distort the original word a bit, but keep the reference. ‘Lavatory’ (a place to wash) and ‘toilet’ (which meant a dressing room) are both euphemisms for a loo (probably from French lieu ‘place’, again euphemistically); ‘downsizing’ for firing someone; ‘pass over’ for dying; etc. None of these is, of course, a swear word. May 4, 2015 at 14:47

It is sometime referred to as sanitisation:

To sanitize:

  • To make more acceptable by removing unpleasant or offensive features from: sanitized the language in adapting the novel for television. (AHD)

From (queensjournal.ca)

“Sometimes sanitizing words is a fine thing to do,” Mercier said, adding that it can, in the right context, aid in changing social attitudes for the better.

“There can also be good reason not to sanitize words,” she warned. “We might not want to sanitize ‘F... you’ because sometimes that’s just what you need to use! Some people don’t want to sanitize words because they don’t want them to lose their shock appeal.”


  • Sanitized replacement for "F..." used on "Battlestar Galactica" (Urban Dictionary)

Perhaps euphemism

A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing: “downsizing” as a euphemism for cuts

Oxford Dictionaries Online

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    Sigh. Why does someone always post in comments what I am currently writing in an Answer? It makes me look such a lame copycat.....
    – David Pugh
    Apr 27, 2015 at 16:22
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    @DavidPugh - don't feel bad about it. Comments are not answers and you can post an answer using material present in comments, especially if you elaborate it and offer more reference.
    – user66974
    Apr 27, 2015 at 16:33
  • psst! @David Pugh, put the tinfoil back on!
    – user98990
    Apr 29, 2015 at 4:49

TV Tropes has the trope Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp." It's described as giving different names to familiar concepts in order to make a fictional world seem more "other."

  • In discussion with an American romancier once, I coined the phrase "two-moon world" for some of the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay, which are based on histories from our world (e.g. the Spain of El Cid) but have two moons in the sky for "otherness". If you like it, help yourself.
    – David Pugh
    Apr 29, 2015 at 14:44

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