Puritan euphemisms

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Oct 23 23:52:35 UTC 2012

On Oct 23, 2012, at 7:24 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

> At 10/23/2012 12:52 PM, Baker, John wrote:
>>        But you're forgetting the Third Commandment:  Thou shalt
>> not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will
>> not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.  There is no
>> religious proscription on saying "pissehouse."
> Blasphemy and obscenity were and are not necessarily the same.  Both
> were contrary to law, if not explicitly in Puritan times at least by
> statute by the early 18th century.  And one of the accusations
> against John Porter in 1665 was his swearing "these abusive
> names".  That was cited in the guilty verdict in his capital case of
> disrespect towards his parents.
> Besides, I don't understand the point.  If blasphemy was so serious a
> sin, then might not one expect euphemisms to be common rather than rare?
> Joel

I took John's point to be precisely that euphemisms for *blasphemous* words to avoid taking the Lord's name in vain were relatively widespread, from "gadzooks" to "zounds" to whatever played the role of "goshdarned" back then, but that you wouldn't necessarily expect to find euphemistic substitutes for (what we consider) secular obscenity in general, including "pissehouse" (or "shite"?), given precisely the distinction you draw above.  Maybe I'm missing something (like what the record actually shows).


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