Are there any nonreligious versions of the phrase "heaven knows"? For example:
Heaven knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.
I've heard other religious variants like "the Lord knows", but I can't find a nonreligious version.
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Goodness knows is a derivation of God knows, so it is still 'religious' but not overtly so.
- No one knows. (A variant of "God knows.")
Goodness knows how long it will take for my application to be processed.
- It is true, certain, or definite that; it is obvious or clear that.
If you want to go aggressively secular, there is Fuck knows
(idiomatic, vulgar, followed by a wh-clause) I don't know; nobody knows; it is unclear. Fuck knows what we'll do now the car's broken down.
but while 'fuck knows' can substitute in many situations, the requirement for a subsequent wh-clause means it wouldn't work in your example construction.
Goodness knows... (when I'll see you again).
Who knows/can tell...(when I'll see you again).
E.g. "heaven knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."
The real meaning of "heaven knows" in the given example is a statement of a fact that cannot be refuted (though it may not be immediately obvious). I may try to pretend I am good at it, but there is a higher being that knows the truth.
Therefore the secular equivalent would be something like:
"There's no denying I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."
Consider everyone knows:
But if you know something, and others know the same thing, it's more emphatic to say that all people know it (all the time). - FumbleFingers
It's a form of hyperbole, of course. In your example, you'd say:
What about nothing at all?
"I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."
Or if it's an admission of sorts:
"To be honest, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."
"Let's face it, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."
There's a lot of ways to express the idea here, not necessarily requiring a directly equivalent substitution for "heaven knows".
Using 'so' instead.
"Heaven knows I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise."
'Heaven knows' here is underlining/emphasising the speaker's awareness of not being perfect - "Not only am I not perfect,..." they are saying, "...but it's clear for all to see that I'm not perfect." https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/heaven-knows
This negative emphatic sense of 'heaven knows' can often be heard using 'so' (http://painintheenglish.com/case/427).
"I'm so not perfect when it comes to exercise."
try as I may and try as I might
Cliché a phrase that introduces an expression of regret or failure.
Bill: Try as I may, I cannot get this thing put together right. Andy: Did you read the instructions?
Rachel: Wow! This place is a mess! Mother: Try as I might, I can't get Andrew to clean up after himself.
So, for your example: "Try as I may, I'm not perfect when it comes to excercize"
I think this answer isn't some sort of santized version of the apeal to spiritual 'karma'
Evidently seems to be an appropriate alternative in this context.
in an evident manner : clearly, obviously (Merriam-Webster)
to all appearances; apparently (Collins via The Free Dictionary)
I like this one because it feels like a great counterpoint: evidently, relating to evidence as in science, counter to the religious expression, which references the speaker's faith in some omniscient power.
It's important to note that "heaven knows" has two somewhat opposite definitions:
(1) used to mean "I don't know"
(2) used to emphasize a statement
Within the context of the OP's phrase, I believe "heaven knows" is used in its 2nd sense. Evidently is synonymous with this definition, but it is antonymous to the 1st one.
Evidently, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.
I also like it because evidently is just high-brow enough to sound slightly self-deprecating in this context, perhaps even more so when the phrase is spoken rather than written. It gives the phrase a somewhat humorous and humble tone. Contrast that with the more common:
Obviously, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.
...which to me comes off as a bit sarcastic, and:
Clearly, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.
...which comes off as a bit frustrated, relative to evidently.
Apparently, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.
...somewhat implies reaching a conclusion, accepting mediocrity, or giving up.
Of course, these are just my personal impressions of the shades of meaning these words carry in this particular context. YMMV.
- Who knows the answer to that question? Tom: When will this train get in? Rachel: Who knows? Andy: Why can't someone put this stuff away? Rachel: Who knows? Why don't you put it away?
(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs)
Another "aggressively secular" option (aside from the excellent fuck knows) is to replace heaven/god with the name or title of a deity/demon you don't actually believe in. E.g.
I consider these "secular" in that they're not associated with any actual/professed religious belief by the speaker and making a clear point to avoid saying "god", and "aggressive" in that they're likely to be offensive to an audience who actually is religious and believes in one god, and possibly also to people who are associated with alternative/occult/etc. beliefs and who might interpret your words as mocking their beliefs.
I would like to add the expression "it's no secret". I think there's an implication in the expression "God knows" that something is out in the open, perhaps not very intuitive since we assume God knows everything but that is the way language works :)
It's no secret that I haven't been exercising lately
Or to reference some pop culture:
It's no secret that I'm miserable now
In your example "heaven knows" or "the Lord knows" is an emphatic way to say "this is true". One way to express that is with "the truth is":
The truth is, I'm not perfect when it comes to exercise.
You can also leave out the word "the", and just use "Truth is, …", which is easier to say, and might sound a little more folksy.
This expresses the same idea, minus the religious references, as "heaven knows" in your example, while avoiding commenting on which other people might already know about it. Instead of a deity as an arbiter of truth, it refers to the truth:
the real facts about something: the things that are true
With a reference to an avoidance of Heaven and religion, I think "remains to be evident" is appropriate and universally fitting. It also offers some depth into a span of contexts. My favorite comes out of the scientific and political contexts within the medical and health industries. Variations of "sufficient research is not available at this time" certainly offers immense vagueness, and often, seemingly intentional ambiguity with a touch of legal security.
You could always try to be more explicit, and describe specifically what you want to say. For instance:
For something more idiomatic, but also more explicit, try "I haven't a clue".
I haven't got a clue where this is going to end up.