Whilst watching the 3rd Test match between England and Australia, from Edgbaston, this week, the Barmy Army of England fans were singing as ever (the Australians are not terrace-singers in quite the same way as the English). And among their repertoire the little jingle intended to needle the Australian bowler Mitchell Johnson, and put him off his stride:

He bowls to the left, He bowls to the right, But, Mitchell Johnson, His bowling is shite.

When I looked it up I was amazed to find that shite has an entry in the OED with examples of its use from as early as 1733.

Intended as a word that takes some but not all of the offence out of using shit, it is also undoubtedly helpful to football and cricket fans when composing their rhyming ditties.

One can think of other words crikey, bloody wars or bloody Hilda (avoiding by our lady Mary),etc. What is the name given to a word intended to be a swear word- but not quite?

Etymology: Variant of shit n., probably resulting from the influence of forms of shit v. with a long vowel, although there could also have been an (unattested) inherited form in Old English with a long vowel (deriving from the e-grade of the same Germanic base); compare Middle Low German schīt, schīte faeces, filth, Middle High German schīze diarrhoea (German Scheiße faeces), Old Icelandic skítr faeces. The word occurs earliest regionally (chiefly in Ireland (where it is the usual form) and Scotland), and subsequently in colloquial English as a jocular or quasi-euphemistic variant of shit . For possible older attestation in place names see the etymological note at shit n.

regional (chiefly Sc. and Irish English) and coarse slang (chiefly Brit., Austral., and N.Z.). A. n.

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    possible duplicate of Non-offensive substitute for a swear word
    – Avon
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 11:21
  • The answer to the question you seem to intend is a 'minced oath' (as in the suggested duplicate). But shite is not such; as a variant of shit, it is precisely as offensive, and is 'valuable to football fans' only as providing another rhyme. I would not want any learner to think the term inoffensive Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 15:53
  • @TimLymington That was not my intention.
    – WS2
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 16:44

2 Answers 2


The term is minced oath. That is, the profanity has been cut up a little, and mixed with other stuff.

Per 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, darn, dang, and heck.

I remember being impressed when I was taught this term as a kid, not so much for the term itself, but because we were given the example Zounds!.

"Zounds," you ask, "a minced oath? Whatever for?"

God's wounds. I know, weird, right?

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    Not sure I'd really call shite minced, though. To me, it's just a slightly rustic (or Irish, inasmuch as the two are distinct outside Ireland) variant, like feck or eejit instead of ‘fuck’ and ‘idiot’. The difference between these and actual minced oaths, I'd say, is that mincing an oath includes replacing part of the oath with something that it never alternates with otherwise (like /l/ with /k/ in hell -> heck), while these are just dialectal pronunciations that display at least reasonably commonly found alternants (/dʒ/ instead of /d(i)j/, for example, or /iː/ instead of /ɪ/). Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 11:35
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    @AndrewLeach Tell that to Shaggy and Scooby-do (ok, ok, they said zoinks). Anyway, what I found weird/surprising was the etymology of zounds, not its pronunciation.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 11:45
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    To me, "shite" is actually more offensive than "shit". Perhaps it's because the vowel is more forward and projected? "Shit" is a constricted kind of utterance, good for personal frustration. But "shite" can be (and is) hurled to the world.
    – Margana
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:15
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    @Andrew and Dan: Don’t forget this question about the pronunciation of zounds. If zounds predates the Great Vowel Shift, its regular pronunciation is /zaʊndz/ (like sounds), and /zuːndz/ (like wounds) is influenced by its etymological relationship with wounds; if it postdates the Great Vowel Shift, /zuːndz/ is the regular pronunciation, and /zaʊndz/ must have come about as a spelling pronunciation because it looks like sounds etc. in writing. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:45
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    @Margana: Wild guess: You're British. In America, it's the other way around. "Shite" doesn't sound as bad to us because it's a quirky British word.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 3:10

Well one word is euphemism.



noun: euphemism; plural noun: euphemisms

a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. "the jargon has given us ‘downsizing’ as a euphemism for cuts"

synonyms: polite term, substitute, mild alternative, indirect term, understatement, underplaying, softening, politeness, genteelism, coy term "‘professional foul’ is just a euphemism for cheating"


But I prefer Dan Bron's 'minced oath' in this context.

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