Skepticism

AI: Why do I say that? And is it woo?

I think everyone has tried and true, comfortable phrases they use in their everyday speech.  Me?  I say “six ways to Sunday” a whole lot.   I looked it up online the other day, to see what the heck it means, and if it’s woo in nature.  No real answers, but this could be due to my lazy searching in the hazy ComicCon weekend. (Also, ComicCon is RAD, do come next year and see for yourself!)

Do you have common-to-you phrases?  If so, do you know what they mean, why they’re common?  Do you correct/inform folks who use “woo” phrases when talking to you?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

a.real.girl

A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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110 Comments

  1. Umm… let’s see. I say “Salute!” when someone sneezes because I prefer it to “bless you” and because, growing up in an Italian American household, it comes as second nature. It’s a little wooey to wish someone health whenever they sneeze, but culture has created this need to say SOMETHING, so that’s what I go with.

    Otherwise, I can’t think of too many things like that aside from the occasional “Jesus!” or “I swear to God.” I don’t really correct people when they say these things, nor when they say “knock on wood” or whatever. I guess I feel like it’s better to pick my battles. I’m pedantic enough without doing that!

  2. @Expatria: Isn’t it spelled “salud”? At least in Spanish it is, I think.

    Anyway, I use “god” and “Jesus Christ” a lot, but they’re usually followed by “-damn shithole assballs!” or “on a whore-eating shitstick!”, respectively. I’m a pretty classy guy.

  3. @jtradke: Why should Italians write “Salute” as Spanish “Salud”, even if it’s indeed “Salud” in Spanish?

    At least, taking into account that Italian =/= Spanish, Italians =/= Spanish people, etc.

    That was a weird comment!

  4. I’m rather fond of “God speed”. I just haven’t found a non-wooey phrase I like better.

    As an obnoxious college student I would correct/inform/explain almost anything including phrase meanings at the drop of hat. Now I only perform this service for people who annoy me. The last time was a lady in the coffee shop who was droning on incessantly about the miracle of life. I volunteered that her baby wasn’t actually a miracle, and I could explain exactly how it happened.

  5. Listen to me talk, you’d think I had the most bipolar luck in the world.

    I’ve caught myself saying, “Just my luck” when I was trying to make a left turn and got halted by a rush of traffic, then two hundred yards down the road exclaiming, “Lucky!” when I caught a light that’d just turned green.

    I’m sure I say other stuff like that, I’m trying to think of what else, but “Just my luck” and “Lucky!” seem to be my two most common transgressions.

  6. Every time someone asks me how I’m doing, or how things are going, I just simply reply with “Another Day in Paradise.”

    People that know me usually think I’m being ironic and there’s something to that, but as the song says if you want to view paradise simply look around and view it.

    As for woo sayings I don’t say “Bless you” when people sneeze, to which people constantly point out to me that I didn’t, my reply is always, “I don’t have that kind of power.”

  7. When people ask me, “what’s up,” I have two options. One: explain in vivid detail what up is, until I am either punched, asked to stop or the person stops listening. Two: answer with things that are in fact, “up.” These things could be the ceiling, clouds, the sky, myself (depends on the situation), or a variety of other objects.

  8. I have been known to knock on wood, and to say it, though I know it’s bullshit, but I’m trying to purge religiously-themed swearing from my conversation so I find myself saying, “Blast!” and “sons of bitches, Bumpuses!” a lot.

    If someone blesses me and they are good humored, or particularly sanctimonious, I inform them that it’s really not necessary.

    Overall, though, I don’t really pay attention to woo phrases from other people. I’m too busy being bothered by “a whole nother” or “expecially” or “could care less.”
    I think woo-beliefs are much more important to counter than woo-turns-of-phrase.

  9. I say “oh my god” more than I would like… usually just as a way of saying “wow.’

    A phrase I hate is the “rule of thumb” and I get downright testy when people use “God Bless” as a sign off.

    I do say “good luck” and have once and a while said “oh well, guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

  10. I say “Oh God” “God Damnit” and “Jesus Christ” pretty often. Also “Bless you” when someone sneezes. I think like most people, I don’t intend any woo from these.

    One fun thing I’ve started doing: whenever some religious person says “God bless you” as their way of saying good luck or goodbye I respond with “Oh, I didn’t sneeze” and try to play it off as if I have no idea that “bless you” means anything other than “hey you just sneezed.”

  11. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina):

    Since I quit Christianity I started using religious swears. Before I was afraid to because it was an awful sin…now I get a lot of joy from saying “Jesus Christ”…it’s such a satisfying thing to say when you stub your toe! Also, it’s considered blasphemy so I like that because blasphemy is such bullshit.

  12. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina): My English college prof wife wants to shot people who say “I could care less” when asked a question or given two options like one lump or two. She hears, “I don’t care about what you’re talking about or the question you’ve just asked”.

    Bad golf shots seem to elicit a lot of “Jesus H. Fucking Christ’s!!” . I have no idea what the H. stands for.

  13. I guess I’m also uncommonly likely to ask people, “How’s life?” as opposed to “What’s up?” or even “How’s it going?”

    I also like to ask “What do you do?” when I first meet someone, e.g. first dates. Which is pretty standard. But I like to combine it with a “So”, followed by a pregnant pause in which I steeple my fingers and lean forward, then ask, “What do you do?” in the same tone of voice as a stereotypical Nazi sentry requesting papers. It’s perhaps surprising I get as many second and third dates as I do. (What’s disappointing is that I always get a boring answer about where they work, which, you will note, is not necessarily what the question as stated expects.)

  14. I use “salud” instead of “bless you” and in SoCal, most people know what it means.

    I also use “christ on a cracker” and “jesus h. christ on a popsicle stick” which is weird because I’m a Jewish atheist.

    I also use “Maude help us”. Loved Bea Arthur, dontcha know.

  15. @davew:

    I’m rather fond of “God speed”. I just haven’t found a non-wooey phrase I like better.

    Oh no! I hope you didn’t pick that up from Andrew Schlafly.

    @Fracture:

    Yeah, I thought that was pretty funny too, but it doesn’t work so well on skeptical blogs or most blogs that I comment on. Instead I will sometimes say Oh Their God.

  16. Since the death of the great George Carlin, I have taken up the mission to expose as many OVERUSED words and phrases as I possibly can. What follows is a partial listing of such:

    Shutter: euphemism for: The company went out of business. It closed.

    Nuance: corporate media speak meaning VAGUE

    Right-size / Down-size / Out-size / Out-source: All euphemisms for “you’re fired! Get your shit and get outta here!”

    Per: (and) RE: as in “As Per your latest tweet…”

    Forward-leaning, Forward-looking, Going forward

    Skill-Set (skills)

    Shovel-ready

    Suite: as in: I have developed a suite of new ideas
    (this comes from the fetishizing of computer software lingo.)

    Snarky

    Narrative: msnbc’s Chuck Todd can’t complete a sentence without using the word “narrative” at least once.

    Frankly, and “Look”: All news pundits invariably begin each sentence with one of those.

    This one is for all the new breed of astronomers.
    STOP BEGINNING EVERY ANSWER POSED TO YOU WITH THE WORD: SOOOO!
    Pamela Gay is the worst with this one.
    Ex: “Pamela, how far is a parsec?”
    Pamela: Sooooo. a parsec is a little less than 4 light years.”

  17. Gosh I wouldn’t dream of correcting somebody for saying bless you, or merry christmas, or anything like that. Being non-religious or atheist or secular means that the theistic content of the phrase is irrelevant to me. A nice old lady blessed me for when I helped her carry her groceries. I didn’t feel like it would add much to the discussion to point out that god was imaginary and that she would be better off just saying “thank you.” As a secularly minded person I realized that by calling down a blessing from god she was trying to let me know she appreciated my help.
    In fact, because I know that there isn’t really any meaning beyond “I’m acknowledging that you sneezed” in saying “Bless you” I really don’t have a problem hearing or saying it.
    I find the whole idea of removing all references to religion and superstition to feel vaguely like newspeak anyway.

  18. I’ve replaced “oh my god” with “oh my gosh” in most everyday conversation. But when I’m frustrated at work, “shitfuck” or “motherfuckingshitballs” usually slips out.

    I’ve really, really been trying to replace “good luck” with something better. For those that know me well, I use “good skill!” because that’s what I actually mean when I say “good luck.” But that gets a weird look from most people. “I’ll be thinking about you” or “hope it goes well!” usually comes out instead.

  19. For the non-wooey, I like, “Fuck nuts!”

    I say “GOD!” a lot or “oh my god”. I realized the other day I told someone “good luck!” And I do knock on wood, though more ironically than anything else, and if there isn’t any wood around, I’ll knock on the nearest person’s head.

  20. I really don’t get the animosity towards “bless you”… does anyone REALLY believe that you are blessing them if you say it or that they need to have their spirits blessed out of them after sneezing?

    I say bless you because it’s polite… and every once in a while I try to be pleasant. (Any time someone might be hurling 500 mph snot at you is a good time to mind your manners)

  21. @catgirl: “Oh no! I hope you didn’t pick that up from Andrew Schlafly.”

    Nope. Didn’t know who he was until I read this. I think I picked it up from the English heroic fiction like Robin Hood I used to read as a kid. It occurs to me now that I most often use it when failure is nearly certain:

    He: “I’m going in to ask for a raise.”
    Me: “Godspeed.”

    He: “I’m going to vote for Nader.”
    Me: “Godspeed.”

    He: “I’m going to find my wedding ring by dowsing.”
    Me: “Godspeed you witless moron.”

  22. A lot of religion does tend to creep into my swearing and exclamations because GODDAMNIT THERE ARE NO GOOD ALTERNATIVES. See?

    I also tend toward ‘Jesus Christ on a bike’ or, for some reason, ‘Mein Gott in Himmel’. I don’t even like german :P

    I do try to say for pete’s sake instead of for heaven’s sake. I knock on wood sometimes despite knowing it’s crap because sometimes it’s better to illogically assuage an illogical worry than to just keep worrying about it.

  23. Oh, also, I think it’s cool when people say ‘oh my science’.

    I tend to just say ‘luck’ instead of ‘good luck’, not sure why.

    When I’m REALLY REALLY mad or frustrated I string every curse I can think of together and it ends up along the lines of SHITFUCKDAMNBITCHCUNT and then people go wtf.

  24. I say bless you when people sneeze. I’ve got paperwork that says I’ve got that kind of power ;)

    @Fracture: I’m trying to train myself to say “Sweet Zombie Jesus!” since I just don’t have that many acquaintances that I can aim “Oh your god” at.

  25. @Fracture: I remember Bender saying that! I’ve also occasionally adopted “Oh my lack-of-a-God” but it IS a bit of a mouthful.

    @Joshua: Far more than is probably normal? Maybe. Far more than is necessary? CERTAINLY NOT, sir!

    @magicdude20: OOH, I love that one, too. I say it when I’m frustrated, and since I’m ALWAYS FRUSTRATED, I say it a lot, and typically following a long “Aww.”

  26. I say “Oh my God” and “Jesus!” a lot, for a while I did consciously try not to say them as I’m not Christian and I thought it was disrespectful, but it’s hard to find replacements.
    I say “The bees are in the what, now?” when someone says something I don’t understand. I do have a bit of an odd way of speaking sometimes, but I think you’d have to ask someone who isn’t me to clarify.
    I will also, when exhibiting some kind of loud joyful exclamation cut myself off, clear my throat and say “I mean….”*brushing down my clothes* “Splendid.” It’s a Simpsons quote a lot of people don’t seem to catch. I am also prone to random ejaculations (I love using that word) of quotes from obscure comics, shows and cartoons (“I wanna be a mongoose dog!”) which are hilarious to me but probably to no one else.

  27. @James Fox:
    Better than than the guy whose wife was asking him if he cleaned the gutters before he continued. I cant remember the whole tale but I think she went through the whole “honeydo” list and he got one stroke for each chore accomplished.

  28. @ekimbrough:

    LOL, quietly, but LOL.

    What’s wrong with saying good luck? I don’t get it.

    I mean, is’t that really just a simplified way of saying “I hope chance falls in your favour and you are obsevant and don’t slip on that banana peel that slipped out of some passing person’s knapsack as your back was turned just when the number 43 bus takes an unexpected detour around that blind corner and runs you down like a pressed rat.”

    No?

  29. @SicPreFix: Yeah, I don’t see anything skeptically incorrect about the phrase “good luck”, either. I mean, unless you’re actually personifying Luck, but unless you’re Frank Sinatra you probably aren’t. (And that song is more subjunctive than declarative, anyway…)

    No, if you wished someone “good fate”, that might be a little bit woo-y. Although it could just be an expression of a particularly firm stance on the subject of free will vs. determinism.

  30. I use religious exclamations a lot but most of the time it’s because I haven’t come up with a good non-woo version. Although I tend to just think of myself as being particularly blasphemous — luckily none of my religious friends are to the point where they’d admonish me.

    I do knock-on-wood a lot, not out of a belief that doing so will stop a bad thing from happening, but just from the fact that it’s become a lexical item representing that feeling now.

    I also tend to say “excuse you” a lot after sneezes, although I do like salud and gesundheit a lot.

    My problem with a lot of non-“blasphemous” alternative expressions (like “gosh”) is that they came into being solely because people were offended by the blasphemy. I generally prefer words that are out of the blue. I would like to use “What in blue blazes?” a lot more.

  31. My grandma used to say, “Watch for bear tracks” instead of “good luck” or “godspeed” etc…

    I’m trying to work it into my everyday speech as I find it a very useful piece of advice (especially in bear country).

  32. I still say “Bless you” and sometimes my wife asks me why. Force of habbit I say.

    I sometimes say “Christ on a stick”, aside from the contradiction from being an athiest, I also think to myself, “actually, it’s two sticks”

    I don’t know if it’s woo, but when people use the phrase “To be honest…” or similar, I feel the need to ask if they have been dishonest with me the rest of the time.

  33. I say “Curse you” or “Damn you” when people sneeze (To people who don’t know me, I remain silent) and “God Bless it!” when I’m mad or hurt.

    I say “Carry on” way too much, but I like it.
    “Hey, watcha doin’?”
    “Oh, just gonna grab a beer.”
    “Ah. Carry on.”

    And I love “Mother scratcher” from Raising Arizona.

  34. @James Fox:

    Ha. I’ve wondered about that for a while. My favorite elaborate expletive is, “Jesus H. Christ” or, in bad moments, “Jesus H. F**ing Christ.” This is all funny because I am an atheist, and close on always have been. I inherited the expletives, as far as I know from my father who was (as far as I know an atheist/non-deist agnostic). Somewhen in my childhood I decided that the H must be for hosahna (sp?) since that was what the people of Jerusalem cried out when Jesus entered the city [atheist, remember].

    I would really like to know where the H comes from, now that I know that other people use, “Jesus H. Christ” as an expletive…

    By the way, the phrase wins out over my second-favorite complicated expletive, my grandmother’s, ” Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” No kidding. That was her ultimate expletive. I wonder how she would have felt about some of today’s…

  35. So many common woo-like expressions in my culture that they have lost any transcendental meaning.

    The most usual in general may be “Ojalá” (Gods peed) which may derive from “Inshalla”, a curiosity in a strong xian culture.

  36. I’ve started saying “Sweet Zombie Jesus” a lot. And I always try to add a note of 140-year-old-curmudgeonliness (is that even a word?), just for emphasis.

    I’m a frequent user of the traditional “oh my god”. Sometimes I will even say “oh-em-gee”, “oh-em-eff-gee” or “eff-eff-ess”.

    For variety, I’ll change it to “oh my dog” or I’ve even been known to say, “oh my Bod”. (Bod was an infamous mid-80s puppet character on British TV.)

  37. My oath of choice around the house is “kumquats.” The irrationality of this is that my affinity for it comes in part from a comment my older brother once made along the lines of everything’s being banned at his school, including eating kumquats on campus (there was no such ban).

  38. I worked with a Chinese scientist that was learning English and he asked me for help with expressions. I told him, “When we have everything together we say, ‘I have all my shit in one sock”.

    He use to use it in conversation, and when I revealed it was a joke he was mad for ten seconds and then thought it hilarious.

    Now it stuck. We use it all the time.

  39. I’ve never had a problem with blaspheming, with the reservation that I’ll cheerfully stop blaspheming if I discover the god in question actually exists. And I’m equal-opportunity about it, too, I’m as likely to scream ‘UNHOLY SET AND HIS IDIOT BROTHER NIGEL’ as ‘JESUS H CHRIST ON A BIKE’ when I hammer my thumb.

    Other than that the little phrases that pepper everyday life come firmly under the heading of ‘things to maintain a sense of perspective about’.

  40. I don’t correct people’s phrase, I usually know where they come from, and personally I tend to use weird semi-unique expletives like:

    Otter balls

    M*th*rf*ck*ng Godforsaken Christ

    Cheese bell

    and others that would just seem too weird in translation for me to bother.

  41. I have so many epithets, profanities, and vulgarities, I couldn’t list my favorites. It’s my preferred medium, the way others work in oil or clay.

    I use a fair share of profanities, even though their profane usage is now lost on me. Nonetheless, they are good words, with plenty of impact, so have the desired effect.

    I was once told by a supervisor that someone who swears has a limited vocabulary.

    Bullshit! I’ve forgotten more words than she will ever know! Mwahahahah!

    Clint Eastwood gave me my favorite, from “Unforgiven”: Pig Fucking Whore.

  42. I always use “salud” when someone sneezes but up until a few years ago it was only because that’s how we say it in my country. Where I live now they say “Jesus”, so I have kept the salud response out of rebellion.

    @Chupacabras: I never thought about Ojalá having it’s origin in Inshalla. Cool.

    As for phrases, when someone does something really mean, I like to say that it’s like beating up god on a Sunday.

  43. I think most of us use these phrases because we were raised with them. I.e. it’s cultural, not an expression of faith or lack of faith in most people’s cases.

    I use “Salud” a lot, because I was raised speaking both English and Spanish. “Salud” seems more appropriate to me, because you are wishing the other person “health” after a sneeze, which might indicate the onset of an illness.

    @Masala: “Jesus Christ in a Chicken Basket?” I have to remember that one…

    When I worked on the ramp and in the bagroom, we all swore like sailors, but I have had to learn to temper it now that I work in an office setting. Funny, but some of the women I worked with used the worst language I’ve ever heard! LOL

    Of course, there’s always Robert Heinlein’s favorites, like : “Jesus H. Christ and His Twelve Tap Dancing Apostles!” :-D

    I always wondered what the “H” stood for…

  44. @Joshua: To wish somebody good luck is clearly nonsense. There is no such thing as luck, only chance, and my wishes have no effect on pure chance.

    “Take care” sometimes does a similar job but I favour the more direct imperative “Win!”.

  45. @Gammidgy: What’s nonsense is building straw distinctions between words so that you can feel smugly superior in your perfect rationality.

    Luck and chance are the same fucking thing. Look it up.

    For that matter, wishing someone “good luck” carries no more expectation of altering reality than wishing them “good health”. It’s an expression of a hope, not a promise. But then if you acknowledged that, you couldn’t remind us all of how much more rational than everybody else you are, could you?

    So, yeah, good luck with that.

  46. I think the problem I have with “good luck” is that saying it implies some sort of influence over the outcome. Like there’s some mechanism whereby my thoughts affect quantum fluctuations in the spacetime continuum, thereby increasing the probability of a favorable result. And that’s just one step short of wishing on stars and talking to crickets in top hats.

  47. @Steve: So perhaps “Favorable probability!” would be better?

    If it is raining but the sun is shining, I will say “The devil is beating his wife.” I don’t know where I first heard it but it has always struck me as a particularly poetic way to point out that something unusual is happening.

    From Trevanian’s ‘Shibumi’ – “By the four balls of Mary, Jesus and Joseph!” That gets a few odd looks.

  48. @Steve:

    That’s reasonable. But I think it must be a personal thing.

    When I say good luck to someone, what I am intending is pretty specifically to say “I hope things go well for you, and random chance does not throw a bogie or a boggart in your way.”

    I neither intend, nor intend to imply, a change of reality to smooth the way forward.

    If you see what I mean.

  49. “What the crap?”

    “SCIENCE” said in a pulp novel sort of way as a general declarative and explanation.

    Also, one of my theatre troupe’s descriptions of a good show is “Nailed it, like Jesus.” This is inevatibly followed by someone striking a crucifixion pose.

    We are, it should be noted, not the best of people.

  50. I still say God damn it, Jesus, Jesus Christ on a stick, Sweet screaming Jebus (thank you Homer Simpson for that) and the like. I once talked to George Hrab of the Geologic podcast about that and his answer was that these are basically linguistic leftovers. It’s just going to take me time to train them out of my vocabulary.

    As far as ‘bless you’ goes, I try to replace it with “gesundheit” because that’s the Yiddish word for health. But…is wishing someone health still woo?

  51. I’ve gotten into the habit of shouting “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Which I picked up from an Irish friend back in college. So now, when I do say it it’s with a lilting Irish accent.

    My old standby, however, is “Christ on a cracker!”

    That’s just a big bowla’ wrong.

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