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One of the characters in Bojack Horseman would often say “fish” as an exclamation or mild oath (mary, mr. Shakespeare). I just thought this was a peculiarity of the show, but I heard another usage today in King of the Hill in the same exact manner.

Perhaps the two shows are linked, but I suspect this is not the case. Does anyone know if “fish” has been used in such a manner?

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    They are avoiding cursing, uttering an expletive. In general, you will often hear this in the form of oh sugar, of fudge, etc. Jun 21, 2020 at 19:29
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    I saw a Tourette's sufferer on TV who had taught herself to explete biscuit so as not to cause offence. Jun 21, 2020 at 19:42
  • Related: Non-offensive substitute for a swear word. Jun 21, 2020 at 19:53
  • ... but I am not convinced that euphemism NOUN is a synonym for an expletive. Its meaning is more like the US use of 'bathroom' for 'toilet', or 'in the family way' to mean 'pregnant'. Jun 21, 2020 at 21:00
  • @WeatherVane I think Bruce meant uttering an expletive as a synonym for cursing! Jun 22, 2020 at 8:02

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It is a shortened form of a minced oath:

From Merriam Webster:

Odsfish! Definition: a mild oath

There have been a great number of ways that the English speaking people have used od as a stand-in for God (or, as the Oxford English Dictionary memorably puts it, as a “euphemistic substitute for God in asseverative or exclamatory formulae”). Odsfish, which is the less-common variant of odds fish, is thought to be a euphemistic way of saying "God's fish."

Ay, ay, trust to that, and hang me, quoth Panurge, yours is a very pretty Fancy; Od's Fish, did I not give you a sufficient account of the Elements Transmutation, and the Blunders that are made of Roast for Boyld, and Boyld for Roast?- François Rabelais, Pantagruel’s Voyage to the Oracle of the Bottle (trans. by P. A. Motteux), 1694

OED, which I trust more, adds

od's fish int. [perhaps alteration of God's flesh]

1634 T. Heywood & R. Brome Late Lancashire Witches v. sig. L2v O here comes more o' your Naunts, Naunt Dickenson & Naunt Hargrave, ods fish and your Granny Johnson too.

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Following on from the comment by @Bruce Murray.

The technical term for this is euphemism. Specifically this is a case of phonetic modification. Something that is said that, on the surface, sounds innocent but which is similar to a word that would be unacceptable in polite company. See below for further explanation.

Types of Euphemisms Within the definition of euphemism, there are many different sub-categories. Here are some of the different types of euphemisms:

...

Phonetic modification: We modify strong swear words or words that are not meant to be spoken lightly (i.e., God or Jesus) so that the new phonetic euphemism sounds very similar to the original, but just different enough so that it’s inoffensive. Modifications may take the case of shortening the word or expression (Jeez, What the); intentional mispronunciations (shoot, shut the front door, dang, fudge); or using an acronym or one letter to represent the curse word (WTF, B-word, A-hole).

http://www.literarydevices.com/euphemism/


Note

For those not familiar with English, I'll explain some of the above.

shoot ---> shit

dang ---> damn

fudge ---> f*ck

The point is that the listener is fooled into thinking the actual word is coming but then a slightly different word is actually spoken.

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    I would characterize these more specifically as minced oaths.
    – choster
    Jun 21, 2020 at 19:53
  • @choster - I'm not sure that you are being more specific. I believe that minced oaths are the same as Phonetic-modification euphemisms. Certainly your phrase is more euphonious. However if you can say how the two concepts are different I'm happy to learn. Jun 21, 2020 at 20:11
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    A minced oath is a euphemism, but not every euphemism is a minced oath. Jun 21, 2020 at 20:23
  • @Weather Vane - Where did I say that it was? Jun 21, 2020 at 22:32
  • I was remarking how they are different, from the comment above which was actually addressd to choster, sorry. But come to think of it I don't think that a minced oath even is a euphemism, which is a polite term for something. Jun 21, 2020 at 22:34

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