Religious origins/references: does language matter?

Does it matter if you use words and phrases influenced by religion? Do you avoid it?

“Oh my god” versus “oh my goodness” – obviously I don’t believe in god but I say “oh my god” all the time. It’s a phrase that’s used so much that I feel it has lost any kind of religious meaning. I’m afraid if I say “oh my goodness” I will be mistaken for the uptight Christians afraid to say “god”. Do you use either of those phrases?

What about “grateful” versus “thankful”? I’m really not sure if “thankful” has any religious meaning to it, but I always think, “who are you thanking?” I don’t know but I try to avoid it. I always say “grateful”.

I say “Jesus!” when I’m scared, surprised, or annoyed. If I’m really worked up I say “god fucking damn it!” 

I swear a lot, and consequently, so does my six-year-old daughter. I don’t make a big deal about it – just as long as she doesn’t do it at school. Her teachers haven’t called us yet so I think we’re in the clear.

At daycare, they have told my daughter that “god” is a bad word. I told her I disagree but I also don’t want her to get in trouble.

I’m guessing none of us use the term “blessed”. I absolutely hate that word and I cringe every time someone uses it. Several years ago I was interviewed by SZ magazine – a magazine for those affected by schizophrenia. It was for an article about my artwork. When the article came out, I was quoted as saying “blessed”. I was so pissed. I would NEVER use that word!

How do you feel about these words and phrases? Do you avoid them? Do you use them?


  1. Allison says

    I don’t bother to avoid them, but then, I’m not particularly “religiously” atheist. I suspect that is because I don’t live in a place where wearing one’s religion on one’s sleeve is common. I live in the New York City area, which has a real mix of religions — especially a lot of Jewish and a fair number of Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and Sikhs — so one can’t simply assume that anyone you meet agrees with your religion or won’t be offended if you try to make them agree with you. So far, no one seems to have assumed that my use of those expressions means I’m capital-C Christian, and if they do, I write them off as being an ass.

    I was raised in the Episcopal church, which isn’t particularly into evangelism (it’s more about whether you use the right fork ☺) and doesn’t demand belief in the literal truth of the Bible, and though I ended up seeing God and the divinity of Jesus as myths, I find that the poetry has stuck. It’s like describing something in terms of an Aesop fable or a line from Winnie the Pooh or A Christmas Carol, while knowing that they’re not literally true.

    At daycare, they have told my daughter that “god” is a bad word.

    Does that mean that they think all those prayers that invoke God and Jesus are really blasphemous?

  2. John Morales says

    I can generally tell whether such language is used idiomatically or genuinely (literally).

    Me, I don’t eschew it — heavens forbid!

    (Obs, I use it idiomatically)

  3. says

    Personally, I’m just frying to come up with a different set of exclamations, either from earlier eras or from science fiction or fantasy. They can be Christian or non-Christian, as long as they’re not the same thing everyone’s been hearing and saying for as far back as I can remember.

  4. flexilis says

    I worked with a quite Christian but good-natured man who (jokingly?) said that my use of certain swearwords was evidence that I really believed in a deity. I just said, “Oh hell no.”

    Really we should be grateful to religions for expanding our vocabulary of expletives beyond the sexual and scatological.

  5. lanir says

    There was a period where I was concerned about words and phrases like this. I think it mostly passed because I didn’t have good substitutes for all of them. That and when I would slip up, I could tell that no one noticed and I could also see that no one bothered to notice when anyone else used those phrases either. They’re almost entirely devoid of meaning beyond usage as exclamations.

    Some time after that I began to think about the symbols. I realized some of the christian symbols like angels didn’t bother me either. Still not a fan of crosses. Or annoying Jesus fish on cars, those are just hypocritical (historically they were a covert sign you were christian, now it’s an open display of your christianity but there are bible stories where Jesus says not to make a display of your faith, so… hypocrisy).

    I still have times where I’ll notice things like this a bit more but I know it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t really communicate anything to anyone else. And it doesn’t change my views. So it’s inconsequential.

  6. brightmoon says

    Well I identify as Christian and despite that I’m inclined to use OMFG and not just the initials especially when I see some red state conservative abusive crap that they’ve done. Like Greg Abbott sending migrants to Kamala Harris’s house on Christmas Eve and in subzero weather . Some of those people didn’t even have coats !

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