Donate SIGN UP

'Zounds, sirrah. That's a minced oath, I'll warrant.'

01:00 Sat 13th Apr 2002 |

Q. What the flip...

A. Zounds - God's wounds - is a minced oath

Q. A what

A. A minced oath is an expletive that has been softened in order to minimise the offence it might cause. The minced bit is the same as in 'minced meat', as in meat cut up very small, or 'mincing words', being restrained in what you say. The word comes from the Old French mincer which itself was derived from the Latin minutia, which meant 'smallness' (think 'minute'). Many standard minced oaths have in fact gone in to English as stock words and phrases, and we all use them, probably without realising it.

Q. Oh, for crying out loud

A. You've got the idea. That's a cover up of 'for Christ's sake'. Other common ones are 'for Pete's sake' (probably from St Peter, Christ's right-hand man), 'for the love of Mike' (who ), 'blimey' (God blind me), 'bloody (by Our Lady), 'gee' (Jesus), 'gosh' (God) and loads of colourful ones which we no longer employ except in jest.

Q. Such as

A. 'Drat, drat and double drat', as Dick Dastardly would say (God rot it), 'egad' (God), 'darn' (damn), 'golly' (God), 'jeepers creepers' (Jesus Christ), 'cripes' (Christ) and 'gadzooks' (God's hooks, the nails which pinned Christ to the cross).

Q. So it's largely a case of not breaking the Third Commandment

A. 'Though shalt not take the Lord's name in vain' Certainly that was the case when people took blasphemy more seriously (it's still an offence, you know), and if you look up 'minced oaths' on your search engine you'll mostly come up with American religious sites, but there are plenty of non-religious euphemisms around.

Q. Examples

A. Blooming (bloody - OK, that's religious, but at one remove), flipping and flaming (f***ing), beggar (bugger) and basket (bastard).

Q. So how do mince pies fit in with all this

A. As in she's got a lovely pair of... Mince pies is rhyming slang for eyes. Mince pies contain minced meat (or mincemeat), which as we all know has little to do with meat (except for the inclusion of a little suet) and everything to do with preserved fruit with spices chopped up minutely.

Q. And how about mincing, as in 'proceeding along the road in an effeminate manner'

From the same source. To mince, that is, as the OED puts it, 'to walk with short steps and an affected preciseness or daintiness', was coined in the 16th century.

Q. So is that how Mincing Lane got its name

A. As a promenade for those who minced Couldn't be further from the truth. Mincing Lane in the City of London, which was the centre of the tea trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, got its name from the Anglo-Saxon mynecen, 'nun' (the feminine form of mynec, the modern 'monk'). In the 13th century there was a tenement on the street owned by a house of nuns.

See also the answerbank articles on euphemisms and rhyming slang

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

Do you have a question about Phrases & Sayings?