What term describes a non-offensive substitute for a swear word?

For example, Battlestar Galactica used frack instead of fuck. Another example is the use of snap instead of shit.

I think I may have heard a single-word term used to describe such alternate non-offensive words before, but I don’t know what it is.

  • 2
    "Frack" is a minced oath for "fuck", as Fraser says, but "snap" does not mean shit. "Snap" is an interjection conveying surprise and admiration, something like "wow". Commented Jul 26, 2011 at 22:50
  • If everyone knows what you mean when you substitute terms (nudge, nudge; wink,wink), then the offensiveness of the remark might actually be improved because of the cleverness by which you pretend to conceal the true meaning. Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 11:10
  • Fracking (topical word) means something else completely en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing
    – cindi
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 17:35
  • @cindi: true but it has other meanings urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=frack The same as my example work being replaced.
    – Justin808
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 17:46
  • 1
    @ChrisM: Besides fricking and freaking I believe they all originated on a TV show. Battlestar Galactica, Smurfs, and Farscape respectively.
    – Justin808
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 17:49

7 Answers 7


The general term for these is euphemism.

The use of a word or phrase to replace another with one that is considered less offensive or less vulgar than the word or phrase it replaces.

Edit: just found another term: minced oath. I've never actually heard this term used, mind you, but still, it's a closer match than plain "euphemism".

  • 3
    While it doesn't refer to the words themselves, a bowdlerized version of a work would also be one with the offensive parts censored.
    – aedia λ
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 19:40
  • 3
    A friend of mine ended his middle-school-presentation on this phrase with "If you'll excuse me, I have to take a wicked euphemism." I never forgot it.
    – Alan
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 20:08
  • Another term straight from minced oath's entry is pseudo-profanity.
    – Unreason
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 12:27
  • I used minced oath here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/37315/origin-of-oh-noodles/… so you might not have heard it, but you can say you've read it! Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 15:19
  • Here's a list of, quite humorous, minced oaths. phrases.org.uk/meanings/minced-oath.html
    – dayuloli
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 10:58

I would call this a minced oath:

an expression based on a profanity or a taboo term that has been altered to reduce the objectionable characteristics.

Lots of fun stuff like "strewth", "cheese and rice"...

  • I can figure out 'cheese and rice' but what is 'strewth' a minced oath for?
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 20:05
  • 3
    "By God's truth". Taking the Lord's name in vain used to be a much bigger deal. Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 20:23
  • I can't figure out 'cheese and rice' haha what is it?
    – ChrisM
    Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 17:55
  • "Jesus Christ". Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 18:06
  • 1
    Yeah, I saw that on the HBO show "Big Love". It brings to mind the evolution of Cockney slang... Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 20:08

The basic process is called euphemizing (replacing a "harsh" word with a "softer" word or phrase).

  • Why the downvote? The substituted words are euphemisms for the word being substituted.
    – Gnawme
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 18:24
  • 1
    @Gnawme: I'm guessing because someone thinks the only correct answer is "minced oath". So far as I'm concerned euphemism is equally correct, so it's a shame they're two separate answers. Luckily I can spare the upvotes for both! Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 19:28
  • @FumbleFingers: More to the point: "Minced oaths are a sub-group of euphemisms used to avoid swearing when expressing surprise or annoyance." Phrase Finder
    – Gnawme
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 19:34
  • This word proposal seems like the only word which would actually be used in conversation. No one is going to say "What a unique minced oath/bowdlerisation!" whereas someone may actually say "What a unique euphemism!"
    – ChrisM
    Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 17:59
  • Downvote? Perhaps because essentially it's a duplicated answer. it should be removed. Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 15:45

Q: Is there a term for replacing one slang word with another made-up slang word?

In addition to euphemism, the more general term is bowdlerisation (to bowdlerise, bowdlerised):

From Thomas Bowdler who in 1818 published a censored version of Shakespeare, expurgating "those words and expressions [...] which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family."

  1. To remove those parts of a text considered offensive, vulgar or adult in nature.
    the bowdlerised version of the text, while free of vulgarity, was also free of flavour
  2. (by extension) To remove those parts of a text considered to be damaging to an authority.

You can see lots of examples at TV Tropes.

Q: At what point do the made up words turn into recognized/official words? For example I'm pretty sure I can use most of the above replacements and people will know what I mean, fricking and fracking being most used.

English has no official arbiter of words, so it depends what you mean by recognised and official. It just depends on usage. Once a word is used widely enough then almost by definition, most people will understand it.

Q: Even if a replacement becomes commonly used, at what point would it end up in say the OED?

It doesn't really matter if the words are slang or offensive, it again depends on usage. The OED has a FAQ on how a word qualifies for inclusion. Briefly, if a word has been used by enough people, and/or for long enough, then it's in.

Of your examples, fricking, fracking and freaking are already in Oxford Dictionaries Online as vulgar slang used as euphemisms for fucking. Smurfing and frelling aren't there, but these are less well known.

  • I don't believe bowdlerization can be applied to just one word. More importantly, surely EL&U is the official arbiter of English... Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 22:24

Another common term is "minced oath". This term literally refers to a substitute for the profane rather than the obscene or vulgar, however, I think it is sometimes used as a more general term for any such substitution.

So "gosh darn it", a minced oath for "God damn it" would be literally a minced oath. But "shut the front door", a substitute for "shut the f*** up" would not be an oath, and so not literally a minced oath. But I think the term is applied to both.


Maybe the term you are looking for is called "Bleep". It is used in TV where a person says a word that might be not appropriate for viewers. However since that is a matter of opinion, I guess you can use it like it is "a key to every lock" type of thing.

  • 1
    "Bleep" is an interesting example. Originally, they would just cut the audio, but people would think that it was a technical flaw, so they would replace it with a sound. That sound was onomonopiacally named "bleep", and the act called "bleeping". Now the word "bleep" has itself become a minced oath and people literally say, "What the bleep is going on?" Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 18:10
  • @Malvolio The bleep used to cover words also has explicit rules, such as the frequency and how much of the word must be covered. Interesting, but not related to what you are saying.
    – user39425
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 23:55
  • @fredsbend -- "Unnecessary censorship" (actually, censorship that is not only unnecessary but so excessive as to create a humorously false impression of obscenity) is now a popular thing. See here for a hilarious example (although, if my ears do not deceive me, they are subtly cheating by adding not only a bleep but a subtly "f" sound). Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 1:21

If the swearing is an interjection/exclamation, or has no real meaning in the sentence, it falls in the category of expletives


1 a: a syllable, word, or phrase inserted to fill a vacancy (as in a sentence or a metrical line) without adding to the sense; especially a word (as it in “make it clear which you prefer”) that occupies the position of the subject or object of a verb in normal English word order and anticipates a subsequent word or phrase that supplies the needed meaningful content

b : an exclamatory word or phrase; especially one that is obscene or profane

"Polite ones", as the one you mentioned, are known in most literature as moderated expletives or euphemistic taboo expletives. You can see both uses and read more about here in this book

Extract: Expletives diagram Expletives description 1 Expletives description 2

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