Do You Know These Synonyms For The Act Of “Cursing”?

Sure, you may swear or curse, but have you ever been accused of blasphemy? Or been asked to stop effing and blinding? Just like we have plenty of foul words to pick from, the English language also offers us plenty of synonyms for the words cursing or swearing themselves. We’ve gathered some of the more unique ones to help you (and us) learn some colorful ways to refer to the act of using, er, colorful language.

Curse vs. swear

First, let’s talk about the basics. The word curse is of disputed origin, but it was first recorded in English before 1050. In can be defined as “to use profane language” and also “to wish evil or misfortune upon someone or something.” Swearing can refer to “the act of making a solemn declaration or affirmation, sometimes with a sacred being or object (e.g., a deity or the Bible).” The word swear comes from the Old English word swerian, which is of Germanic origin.

Curse vs. cuss

OK, ready to cuss up a storm? Or, at least, talk about cussing up a storm?

billingsgate

This term, used in this sense as early as 1600s, takes its name from the Billingsgate fish market, which was originally located in the Billingsgate ward (i.e., electoral division) of London. It is thought to have been the largest fish market in the world at one point during the 1800s. Due to the cries of fishmongers that could be heard at the market, billingsgate came to be synonymous with “coarsely or vulgarly abusive language” (e.g., the two men were arguing so loudly that their insults and billingsgate could be heard even from several yards away).  

blasphemy

Blasphemy refers to a specific kind of profanity: “language that is disrespectful or insulting towards God or sacred things.” For example, she was accused of blasphemy after stating publicly that she did not believe in God. An impious action can also be considered blasphemy. Such actions or language are described as blasphemous; to use blasphemous language is to blaspheme. According to a 2019 study, almost 70 countries around the world have blasphemy laws.

Blasphemy is first recorded in the late 1100s. It is derived from the Greek word blásphēmos (“defaming, speaking evil”).

coprolalia

Coprolalia is a medical term meaning “the obsessive, excessive, and/or involuntary use of obscene language, including scatological words.” This language can also include socially inappropriate and insulting utterances, even if they do not contain curse words (e.g., due to her coprolalia, she sometimes involuntarily said inappropriate words). Coprolalia is a neurobiological symptom of Tourette’s syndrome and, occasionally, schizophrenia.

Coprolalia is derived from the Greek words kopros, meaning “dung,” and lalien/lalia which mean “to babble” and “speech, chattering, or talk,” respectively. The combining form lalia is “used in the formation of nouns denoting abnormal or disordered forms of speech, as specified by the initial part of the word.” An example is echolalia, the “uncontrollable and immediate repetition of words spoken by another person.”

blue language

Blue language is synonymous with swearing. The word blue has been used pejoratively to describe obscene or vulgar things in various contexts for several hundred years, for reasons unclear. A blue joke for example, could denote a joke about sex, or one might say, “I don’t think that movie is appropriate for kids—it contains a lot of blue language.” Of course, one can also employ the word blue to mean “sad or down in the dumps” (the rainy weather has got me feeling blue today).

Blue laws, a term in use since 1755, are “puritanical laws that forbid certain practices, especially drinking or working on Sunday, dancing, etc.” Today some blue laws, especially those restricting liquor sales on Sundays, remain.

Interestingly, blue language does not seem to be related to the idiom to curse a blue streak, which means “to swear quickly, letting out a stream of foul language.” The latter comes from the expression to talk a blue streak, which means “to talk very quickly, continuously, and at length.” In these expressions, blue streak is an allusion to the speed of a bolt of lightning.

Another language-related term that includes a color word is purple prose.

ribaldry

Ribaldry (adjective form: ribald) is not exactly synonymous with cursing or swearing, but refers to “vulgar, indecent, or otherwise irreverent language,” often related to sexual matters. For example, the host’s ribaldry made some at the awards show uncomfortable.

The word can also signify a behavior or person’s character of the same nature. Additionally, ribaldry refers to a kind of entertainment, including songs and comedy, meant to amuse its audience through off-color, often sexual humor (note: it may vary from playfully provocative to downright obscene). Synonyms for this sort of entertainment include bawdiness and blue comedy. (Look! The word blue again!)

Ribaldry (recorded around 1300–50) and ribald (1200–50) both come from the Old French ribauld or ribaud, based on the verb riber, “to be licentious” (or “lewd”). This French riber is, in turn, from a Germanic word that deals with, um, heating and rubbing.

effing and blinding

This expression, used in the United Kingdom, means “using a lot of expletives in one’s speech, likely in an angry and/or passionate manner.” For example, after he found out the concert of his favorite band had been canceled, he was effing and blinding all the way home. If you’re wondering whether the effing is the same effing as in the euphemism for f*cking, you’re correct. (The euphemism eff takes on a more humorous meaning if you note that the word ineffable is used to describe something that is “unspeakable or beyond expression in words.” No apparent relationship between the two terms, however).

The blinding part of the expression is thought to relate to the British exclamation “Blimey!,” which is a minced oath for “God blind me!”

A synonymous expression is effing and jeffing.

scurrility

A scurrility is something that is scurrilous: “involving vulgar, obscene, and/or abusive language.” It can also be applied more loosely, to refer to something that is in and of itself vulgar, obscene, and/or abusive: I thought the comedian’s act would be wholesome, but it was full of scurrility!

Scurrility comes from the Latin word scurrīlitās, meaning “buffoonery” (a secondary meaning of scurrility is “joking in a coarse or obscene manner”). The word first appeared in English in the 1500s.

invective

Invective is “abusive, insulting, or highly critical language, possibly of a sarcastic nature.” An invective is used to harm someone else with words. For example, his speech was highly critical and filled with invective directed at his political opponents. 

Invective is first recorded around 1400–50 and is ultimately derived from the Latin word invehī, which means “to attack with words.”

profanity

A common synonym for swearing or cursing is profanity. It denotes “obscene or blasphemous language” (for example, she left her brother an angry voicemail that was laced with profanity). It may also refer to something (a person’s behavior, for example) that is profane, a word that can mean “irreverent toward God or sacred principles, secular, or pagan.”

Profane dates to the early 14th century and comes from the Latin profānus, which means “not sacred.”

Now you know some fancy words to talk about using not-so-fancy words!

To learn about the origins of specific curses or swear words, check out our slideshow: Where The Bleep Did That Curse Word Come From?

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