Taking the Lord's name in vain

I posted this recently on a private forum for secularists, heathens and infidels. The conversation it sparked was interesting, but that was for a slightly different crowd of like minded people. As a bit of personal background, the areas where I have the most training are magic and mathematics. Both are disciplines where the language where ideas are expressed are extremely important. A few words difference can have a huge impact and so I often waste a lot of energy trying to pick exactly the right words to use.

"In my experience, if you cannot say what you mean, you can never mean what you say. The details are everything."

-J.M. Straczynski

Do you make an effort to change the way you speak because you’re gay and/or an atheist.

I’m thinking of things like how whenever Michael Shermer mentions god, he often refers to ‘she’ or ‘her’ and it’s always followed by this little giggle as people are confused and amused by the incongruity.

I’m also thinking of swear words. There are three levels. At the highest are the insulting racial slurs (N-word and the like), followed by the sexual/scatological (asshole, shithead, cocksucker, fuck, cunt, these lists are fun to make) and at the lowest end are the religious ones (god damn, what in god’s name, oh god, oh hell, etc).

Pretty much no one uses the first kind, and the second kind is still hard to get away with in most settings. So in mixed company, the religious ones are the closest thing you can get to a good curse word.

So my question to all of you is, since you don’t believe in god hell or damnation, what do you use for a good swear word in mixed company?

I worry sometimes that if you use the words, you’re tacitly endorsing their validity. Stephen Hawking (happy birthday) and Albert Einstein both used phrases involving god and it has come back to bite them as people have tried to quote it out of context to imply that they must believe in god. Hitchens used to say he used the phrase “god knows” to mean “nobody knows” but who knows what percentage of his audience actually knew that.

When I was in my late teens, I used to run a kids day camp, so I was really, really good at avoiding all, except for maybe the odd “hell” or “damn”. For my own amusement I tried the Bugs Bunny type ones for a while (fiddlesticks, suffering succotash) and the one from Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light (“I Darn you to Heck”). Then when I got a little older, I tried to replace religious curses with scientific ones (“what in Feynman’s name”, “for the love of Darwin”) which I still do from time to time.

Depending on how confident I feel, I might even interject when someone uses one of the little religious curses, “who is this god person you’re talking about?” My favourite is if someone says cocksucker, to add “excuse me, some people do that for fun.”

There are lots of other little places where religious phrases sneak into language, like saying ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes. Wondering, if anyone else notices or cares or what you try to do about it.