The One Big Happy from 12/9:


If she takes a (claw) hammer to your favorite toy truck, you’ll be likely to cry out. At the very least, something on the order of Oh, no! But quite possibly something stronger.

But what do you call these stronger things? Curse words, curses, cursing, cuss words, cusses, cussing, swear words, swears, swearing, expletives, oaths, foul language, bad language, …

On cuss from NOAD:

noun cuss: 1 an annoying or stubborn person or animal: he was certainly an unsociable cuss. 2 another term for curse (sense 2 of the noun).

verb cuss: another term for curse (sense 2 of the verb).

noun curse: 1 [a] a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something: she’d put a curse on him. [b] [usually in singular] a cause of harm or misery: impatience is the curse of our day and age. [c] (the curse) informal menstruation. 2 an offensive word or phrase used to express anger or annoyance: his mouth was spitting vile oaths and curses.

verb curse: 1 [a] [with object] invoke or use a curse against: it often seemed as if the family had been cursed. [b] (be cursed with) be afflicted with: many owners have been cursed with a series of bankruptcies. 2 [a] [no object] utter offensive words in anger or annoyance: drivers were cursing and sounding their horns. [b] [with object] address with offensive words: I cursed myself for my carelessness.

I was under the impression that slang cuss (noun and verb), historically an r-less variant of curse, was now mostly archaic or regional, but the citations in GDoS don’t seem to bear that out, nor do the data from the Google Ngram Viewer for curse word vs. cuss word:


Curse word almost always outstrips cuss word, but the latter seems to be very much alive.

One Response to “Exclamations”

  1. Stan Carey Says:

    Cuss, cussing, and cuss word are not terms I use, but I come across them quite often even in semi-formal English: I hunt for news items on swearing for the @stronglang Twitter account, and I’ve found that they’re worth occasional searches.

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