My Experiments with Strewth!
There are some incidents in our lives that shape our thinking and how we act; they change the way we see things, and turn us into the people we are.
I grew up in a family that didn't swear. As with discovering tea and coffee, I discovered slang and swearing in college. At college, I learnt the stock words and phrases that comprise the vocabulary of collegiate speech, and took to using them myself, if not at home, among my circle of friends.
But I was pulled up short and stopped to think about it once. In those days, I used to be a member of a lending library called Pastime. I used to share cups of tea and chat with the owner. Once, I'd advanced an argument about some book and added the cool phrase, dash it. He took his jeweller's loupe out of his eye (repairing timepieces was his hobby), and looked at me curiously. Why say dash it, Lali, he inquired mildly. Why not say what the dash was about?
I floundered. I had no idea what the dash was about. I was just speaking the language of my peers. He then elucidated that 'dash' was a substituted expletive. (Bleep! I didn't know that.) Saying 'dash it' wasn't any better than saying the curseword or profanity itself, was it, he asked.
Taking recourse to swear words to express irritation or annoyance is something we all do, after all. We swear to shock, we swear for emphasis, too. Our speech is usually peppered with interjections, exclamations and the current cool phrases.
Words that would never be uttered in polite society once are now so common that we don't remember the original taboo on them. Time and mores weaken the sting of some words and phrases, and some fall into disuse and fade from our collective consciousness. There was a time saying 'Od's Blood' was blaspheming, who but readers of medieval literature know the phrase or its meaning now? There was a time when publishers would cut a 'damn' whereas books these days are full of profanities. Words that used to be bleeped out in broadcasts feature as titles of song albums now.
Writers of fantasy novels give authenticity and character to their created worlds by inventing a set of exclamations and expletives for them. Asimov's Elijah Bailey exclaims "Jehoshaphat!" Foundation series characters say "Galaxy!"
Robert Jordan's Nynaeve mutters "Light!" or Mat Cauthon swears "Blood and bloody Ashes!" In that world, 'flaming' is a common expletive.
Anne McCaffrey's dragonriders swear by the First Egg and exclaim "Shards!"
In Watership Down, Fiver effectively grabs the attention of his friends with what to them is a shocking impiety, "Embleer Frith!"
Larry Niven's characters in Integral Trees say 'Treefodder!' and 'Feed it to the tree'. Niven uses the phenomenon of acronyms becoming words and his characters in Known Space novels say 'tanj' (There Ain't No Justice) as an expletive. Also, he speculates that as religion stops being a major force, that there might be a church of Finagle, whose prophet is Murphy.
But after that conversation, I couldn't bring myself to utter casual expletives. So my speech turned mild. But speech needs some interjections, so I developed my own. I say 'good grief' a lot.
From my husband, I picked up saying 'strewth', but not exclaiming 'good Lord'. For an atheist to say 'good Lord' is a bit silly, anyhow. Why bring theoretical places of afterlife into conversation? So I don't say 'hell' or 'good heavens' either. And cured of euphemisms, I don't even say 'heck' and the only time I'd say 'flipping' is when I am talking of omelettes or dosas. As for that good old Anglo-Saxon word which ought to be paid extra every time it is used as an exclamation, interjection and adjective, I think the only time it should be used is between two consenting adults.
Even so, sometimes there arises a need to express oneself forcefully. So I borrow Nanny Ogg's expression and say, "I'll be mogadored!" and it is truth too, as cats do seem to like me.