Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Skeptical Etiquette

Sam was on the way to the bank with his Afternoon Inquisition when suddenly I jumped from the inky shadows and jabbed him in the back with a gun.

“Ooh,” said Sam, “buy me a drink first!”

“Give me your AI or I’m sending you to meet your maker,” I yelled.

“But I’m an atheist,” Sam cried.

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I don’t believe in a maker.

“It’s just a saying!”

“I’m just being precise!”

Do you avoid common phrases that refer to superstitious or non-skeptical concepts like god, wishes, prayer, or luck? Do you get annoyed when other people do?

BONUS QUESTION: How do you handle social situations in which a casual friend or acquaintance expresses a belief in something you’re skeptical of? For example, “I’ll pray that you’re feeling better soon.”

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

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I always attempt to replace OMG with OMFSM… but religion is sooooo ingrained in society, it’s difficult sometimes.
    Instead of ‘Thank God’ it’s usually ‘that was unexpected and appreciated.’ I actively attempt to exclude any refs to the supernatural at all times.

  2. I don’t think I avoid them but I have started using one I stole from Bender on Futurama, if I need and exclamation I use “Oh your god!” (man there was a lot of “I”s in that sentence) One of my born again friends that I’m beginning to believe suffered brain damage during rebirth was irked by it, and said don’t you mean “my god?” to which I answered “no I don’t have an invisible friend in the sky so I am barrowing yours for effect. He seemed confused and went away to pray about it or something.

    In social situations I’ll make my views known if the issue is directed to me. I was recently told by some Christian friends and family they were praying for me, I let them know they should save it for someone that believes.

  3. Actually, I use “Jesus” as a mild expletive far more often now than I did as a Christian. I don’t feel bad about it anymore, and it’s more expressive and less lame than “geeze,” so I just made the switch (“geeze” is the mild stand-in for “Jesus” anyway, I believe). I do, however, actively try to avoid the habitual “thank God,”
    as Tanstaafl56 mentioned.

    Social situations are sticky, of course, and there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It really comes down to how important the belief is; if they’re spouting “vaccines cause autism” nonsense I’ll happily leap on that, but people offering prayers (particularly older people who grew up with religion) are generally not worth challenging over it, provided no harm is being done.

    Again though, every situation is different.

  4. Well, I did have my lawyer remove all the “so help me God” stuff from my house purchase. Without skipping a beat, he went through the contract and replaced about six occurrences with “do solemnly affirm”.

  5. I have no problem taking God’s name in vain :P I honestly don’t worry much about it, although I have seen a number of amusing substitute for OMG, with “Oh my Chaos” at the top of the list that I am trying to introduce into my vocabulary. If I can manage that I plan on getting more specific (because chaos doesn’t fit all the occasions for OMG) and say silly things like “Oh my Ridiculousness!” or “Oh my Intensity!”

    Wishes and luck I try to talk to relate to the real concept they are referring too. For example when someone says “Don’t jinx it!” I might response “Don’t worry, I won’t take it for granted.” In other cases, I make an idiosyncrasy out of it: “But that’s a bad luck! You’ll lose the game!” “Well then, I’ll defy the fates and kick some ass at the same time.”

    People talking about prayer is always awkward, I forget people think that it works.

  6. I use many common phrases that might, in another context, indicate nonskeptical beliefs but I simply view them as figures of speech, not an expression of opinion.

    It never bothers me when someone else expresses a belief I disagree with since I just take it in the spirit it was offered. If a devout person says their going to pray for me then, by their lights, they are doing a nice thing so why should I be bothered. What does bother me more are the people who go out of their way to make their speech generic. IMO, that is just another way of force feeding your opinions to those around you.

  7. I do try to avoid references to deity, unless I’m being deliberately flip or blasphemous. Occasionally, my habit from years of growing up religious will let slip a “god knows” or something — I don’t worry too much about it, and just have a private laugh at my own expense.

    When people wish me a Merry Christmas, or say “bless you” when I sneeze, or tell me I’m in their prayers*, I try to take it in the spirit in which it was intended. These people are being nice (usually), and I see no reason to throw it in their face just because they have a belief I don’t share.

    * If I’m in their prayers because I’m going through a rough patch, or am not feeling well, or something, they’re being nice, and I react as above. I react quite a bit differently if I’m in their prayers simply because I disagree with them on a matter of fact or belief.

  8. Bless you. I will thank people if they say it to me when I sneeze, but I never say it to others (even when they’re clearly waiting).

    I use ‘jesus’ and ‘jesus christ’, though I’ve replaced god’s sake with fuck’s sake, and often use omf instead omg. And often if someone wishes me good luck before a hockey game or something, I just smile and say ‘no such thing!’ I rarely if ever say it myself, I try to stick to things like ‘play well!’

  9. I have trained myself not to say “god bless you” when people sneeze, but instead use the German “to your health.” I’m trying to eliminate other phrases like that from my vocabulary, but I don’t make too big of a deal about it unless I’m feeling snarky.

    As to what other people say, it depends on the situation. If they are genuinely concerned and being kind in their own way, I’ll let it pass. Otherwise, I’ll respond with “oh, that’s not necessary” or “I’d rather you didn’t” or even “do you want to hear what the data/ science is on that?”

  10. I don’t really go out of my way to avoid the use of religious terminology in my everyday life.

    I think I have subconsciously worked in more “gosh” than “god” when I am appalled, but that’s not because I’m actively avoiding it.

    I do usually refrain from making superstitious remarks, though, unless used sarcastically. I am aware there are some people who believe in things like 7 years bad luck for a mirror and I’d rather not reinforce that belief or make it seem like I agree. But I won’t beat myself up if I slip.

    I also don’t almost ever say”bless you” because I find it pointless. I know the roots of the phrase, but nowadays it’s just a social “kindness”. I’ve never been confronted about my non-blessyou ways.

    If someone wishes or prays or blesses someone (or me), good on them for thinking nice thoughts about people, as long as it doesn’t serve as an “easy out” from ACTUALLY helping a person.

    Bonus question: It depends on three factors:
    1. My relationship to the person in question
    2. The severity of the issue
    3. The receptiveness of the person in question

    If the severity or receptivness is high enough and I feel like I have a good enough relationship with someone to bring it up, I will. If I feel like it will get me in hot water with an important friend over something trivial or something they won’t listen to, I won’t bother.

  11. I just don’t care what words mean to other people. When I say, “Bless you,” I mean, “Good job covering your mouth; I am seeking to positively reinforce that behavior while also encouraging bonding via generally accepted rituals.” I don’t care if you hear, “Sneezing means you need Jesus,” or, “Hey, asshole, stop spreading diseases!”

    from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass

    `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    `The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    `The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master — that’s all.’

  12. Actually, ever since Battlestar Galactica, I’ve been saying “gods dammit,” or “gods know,” or “by the gods,” that sort of thing pretty regularly. It’s been pretty fun being an apparent polytheist, since those that know me also know I’m an atheist and a nerd, and those that don’t know me don’t seem to know what to think. Though I also say Geebus instead of Jesus a lot. That’s thanks to The Simpsons. I did say nerd up there, right?

    As far as replying to people who say that they’ll pray for me, I just simply thank them. I don’t really see the point in starting anything contentious with someone who’s probably only just saying it to be nice. And they want to waste their time actually praying, well that’s fine. As long as I don’t have to hear it I don’t care.

  13. I use religious language all the damn time.
    I swear like a sailor who swears particularly often.
    Trying to fix it.
    No luck so far.
    Feels like a verbal tic.

  14. One way to look at it is that these common phrases have religious/superstitious roots, but are gradually secularizing in that nobody calls to mind the religious connotations when they say it. This is a good thing and maybe secular people using terms like “my god” helps the process along. Lots of our language has roots that get forgotten. Like when we call someone melancholy it doesn’t imply that we accept the four humors theory of health. Maybe religious phrases will become like that.

    It’s kind of the same reason I think it’s important for non-christians to celebrate Christmas, but that’s a different discussion.

  15. I am with doublehelix, I don’t say for god’s sake, it is ALWAYS for fuck’s sake or for shit’s sake if I am am in an f-word unfriendly crowd. When around kids I just mutter to myself…

    I do say Bless You, but not God Bless You. For me it is more of an affirmation that I heard you, and I feel bad you are sick/have allergies, etc. However, I do only tend to do it in family or work situations. I avoid it in public as much as possible. My boyfriend, who will undoubtedly read this comment later when he is doing his daily perusal of Skepchick, says Bob Bless. Name where that one comes from, if you can =D

    I have tried to start using oh my flying spaghetti monster in place of OMG! but it is a weee bit long unless I am abbreviating in game or online or something; at which point someone will inevitably whisper me “wtf is omfsm?” LOL! Anyone I know or play with on a regular basis gets me and knows what it means.

    As for Jesus, yeah, that is another of my favorite sayings. Usually it is because someone did something unbelievable, just like Jesus is himself… =D

  16. I tend to use “good luck” a lot. In my skeptical bits, I know that it means “may an accumulation of random and/or otherwise uncontrollable factors fall in a way you find favorable”, but “Good luck” seems easier to say.

    I tend to get annoyed by the many, many blessings that get rained down upon public servants in Texas (“Bless you” “Have a blessed day”), but because I’m a public servant, I can’t really get uppity about them.

  17. Funny you should ask, just a few days ago a coworker of my girlfriend asked her to ask me what atheists say when someone sneezes. I told her that I personally don’t feel a need to say anything, but most I knew still said “bless you.” There are so many turns of phrase that are ultimately religious but have lost all of their religious meaning. Those don’t bother me at all.

  18. I stopped saying Oh,God;God knows etc.I am still using a phrase similar to Go to hell(more accurately – go to the devils,I am not sure what is the exact translation).And if someone express believe in something it is more for himself or a deceased relative or friend.Usually I don’t have problem with that.And no one has prayed for me so far.I am still trying to stop considering supernatural phenomenas possible.The problem here is that I had encountered one of these and I am trying to find natural explanation.

  19. For sneezing I say “gesundheit”, and I’ve replaced most instances of “God” with “goodness”, which works for me as a secular humanist. Goodness and being good is something important to me. It wasn’t hard for me to replace it. Sometimes I say “gosh” (especially if I’m repeating it a lot as in “Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh”), but that never seemed like a replacement word for “God” to me. Luckily they all shorten to OMG, so no explaining there.

    I like “best wishes” instead of “good luck”, because it’s already a phrase, though it’s not used often, and it conveys that I wish/hope them well. Or are wishes superstitious? Meh. I use it in the hope sense. For stubbing my toe moments, I usually use “faaaaaaahhhh” or “fuuuuuuhhhh” quietly

  20. Lord knows I don’t worry about those damned religious “sayings and expletives”. Christ! Life’s too short to worry about “Good lord” or “Heaven help me”

    In any case, the words aren’t as important as the thoughts behind them when they’re spoken. That’s why we allow certain words in certain context.

    Besides, most of the religious(ish) words and phrases have been with us for so long that they aren’t even close to being literal. The only exception I take to that is saying “bless you” when someone sneezes. Apart from the silly idea of having to speak every time someone sneezes as if the nose thieves will visit anyone who isn’t “blessed” afterwards, I object to the idea that when someone sneezes I’m expected to say anything besides “Are you alright?” if it happens to be a rather severe one and the person looks hurt, or “Point that thing in the other direction” if they get snot on me. There’s nothing about yawns, laughs, twitches, farts, coughs, or hiccups…. so what’s the deal with sneezes? It’s just superstitious nonsense, like throwing salt over your shoulder or not stepping over a dead body.

    Whenever someone says “Bless you.” after I sneeze, I simply ask “why?” I get a lot of stammering and a halting explanation about blessings being good and they’re just being either friendly or polite. Then I ask “Then why when I sneeze but not any other time?” That usually shuts them up.

    Most people don’t know the superstition anyway. They’re just going through the motions. Jesus I wish they’d quit it. :)

  21. I find myself using “Good lord” a lot lately, but which “lord” that’s referring to… well, so far no one has bothered to ask. I might throw in a “good freaking lord” in there every now and then, just to avoid f-bombs in public.

    When people say they’ll pray for me, I just kinda smile and nod and say okay… if it makes them happy to do it, I’m not going to tell them not to. But I do walk away with the knowledge that they’re just going to be wasting their time.

  22. When people sneeze, I generally say “gesundheit.” It seems like a more apt sentiment anyway.

    In general, I really enjoy some flippant references to jesus, such as: Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ or, if something cool happens: sweet sexy jesus! (I get the chorus from “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” stuck in my head sometimes).

    The word god almost never enters into my swearing lexicon. I’m a big fan of ass, as in “ass-clowns,” “ass-hats” and “ass-tastic.”

  23. @B Hitt:

    I’m offended by “bless you,” so when someone sneezes, I just say “Hey, asshole, stop spreading diseases!”

    COTW!! awesome

  24. Well like many others here I swear and Jesus gets blamed for more than his share of bad golf shots and dumb ass drivers talking on their cell phones. Most of my swearing is non religious and more so when derision is involved. The whole I’ll pray for you thing can be a bit of an irritation for me because of the many times I saw it used while part of a church community as almost code for I’m not really going to do anything to help you or situation X. I have religious friends who may say it and I’ll politely say thank you for the nice thoughts. One time I did tell someone that I would prefer they actually did something instead of pray and I noticed my wife looking for a rock to crawl under, so I don’t do that anymore.

  25. I tend to chalk religious-themed expressions up to an ingrained linguistic tendency. I say “bless you” after a sneeze as more of a reflex than anything, really.

    As for the bonus question, if someone says they’ll pray for my health, etc., I just say “thank you” and leave it at that. In that specific situation, it’s not like they’re wishing me ill, they’re hoping I’ll get well soon. Depending on the level of religion involved in the comment, I may smile the “oh my, you’re crazy” smile and avoid them for a bit, but usually it’s meant positively…

  26. Nope. I never avoid saying trite saying because they mention a god or something superstitious. I wish people luck. I say “bless you”… even “God bless you.” I say, “oh god”, “goddamnit”, “oh Jesus”, “oh my god”. I guess I just don’t think I’m being poignant or witty by avoiding saying them… and people are probably going to think that’s what I’m trying to do.

    It’s not like when someone says, “God bless you,” they’re actually summoning the Lord to intervene after you blew snot all over their windshield.

    And if someone cares enough about me to pray for me in a time that I’m in need, I respond, “Thank you.”

  27. I say “oh jeebus” a lot (thank you, Simpsons). I used to say “thank goodness” instead of thank god, but when I realized my very religious sister used the same expression (‘cos, you know, taking the lord’s name in vain and all that), I switched back to god. I never capitalize it in writing though.

    I also say “good luck” to people, but it’s more a way to show my support and solidarity than anything else.

    Not many people “pray for me”, as I don’t know too many that are so religious. The ones that do I take it for what it means: they care for me and wish me well, and that is their way of expressing it.

  28. When one of my children was taken into Intensive Care after a serious accident, the 4 churches in our village (Baptist, United Reform, RC and Cof E) all prayed for us, despite knowing that we were an atheist household. Mind you, a lot of our neighbours did practical things to help too – taking our other child to and from school, making sure we had transport etc etc. We heard later that friends in America arranged a prayer chain for us, and that we were also prayed for in the churches attended by various friends and relations, and in one case, that religious but non-Christian friends of the family did… um… whatever the equivalent of prayer for their particular faith was. We took it as Curious Chloride says: people cared about us, were thinking of us and wishing us well. Do I think that their actions made any difference to the outcome? No. Did I find it comforting at the time to know that they did care? Yes. And actually the practical help was as likely to come from the ones praying as the ones not – it didn’t particularly seem that prayer was seen as a substitute for action.

  29. @here_fishy: COTW.

    My wife and I had a conversation about that after an evening of fun. We couldn’t come up with anything better to yell.
    “OH MY FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER!” just doesn’t roll off of the tongue in the heat of the moment.
    Maybe we should all just start yelling “Elyse! Oh Elyse!” instead.

  30. My wife, an avid atheist, works as a Nurse Anesthetist at a Catholic hospital — oh yeah, she has some FUN days!

    A recent incident in the ER is a good example. The staff was having difficulty with an older obese patient. After five attempts trying to find a vein with an IV needle they finally phoned anesthesia for help. Lisa happened to be on call.

    Lisa got the IV on the first stick, prompting her somewhat histrionic patient to loudly groan, “Oh, thank God!”

    Without skipping a beat Lisa said, “Don’t thank God, thank me; I’m the one who stuck the needle in your vein.”

    Luckily there weren’t any other staff nearby…

  31. While someone saying they’ll pray for you is easy enough to shrug off and just say thanks, I find it a bit more awkward when someone asks me to pray for them. I have a lot of very religious family members and used to be quite devout myself, so this happens quite a bit. I usually say something like “I’ll keep you in my thoughts,” but I can’t shake the irrational feeling that I’m letting them down.

    @here_fishy: COTW!

  32. I am not bothered too much by “bless you,” though we generally say “Gesundheit” at home. Much like someone already brought up above, the phrase has been pretty much secularized by use, and few people actually have anything more than a thought of good will behind it. Interestingly, since most people who know me are aware that I am an atheist, they will often reflexively say “bless you” and then “oh, sorry. Is that ok, to say bless you? I don’t want to offend you!” I think that’s sweet, and always reassure them that I appreciate the gesture even if I don’t believe in a diety.

    On the other side of that coin, I am positively infuriated by people saying things like “I am so blessed…” It is so arrogant. There is so much that is awful implied by such a seemingly simple statement. I have unfriended more than one person on facebook just for posting “is blessed” as their status message.

  33. When someone sneezes i like to say, “Nothing happens when you die.” Think i got that from Greg House.

    And i like to say “God be praised” in reference to Monty Pythons Holy Grail, but not many people get it these days.

  34. Generally yes and yes, though I do use it jokingly or as a mockery of the concept — never seriously (anymore). Special mention about swearing — I usually prefer not to use “Oh my god” or “For God’s sake”, but it is pretty much deeply burned in to me so it does come out accidentally once in a while — or maybe I’m just immitating Adam Savage, I don’t know. I haven’t self-analyzed this yet. But when I am in control I usually reach for something from Seanbaby (“Christ Jesus Fuck!”) or most of the time from Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (Common ones are: “Jesus the Jew!”, “Christ on a stick!” and “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, and more Jesus!). For some reason, I don’t find Allah or Buddha very “punchy”, for lack of a better term — maybe their names are just goofy sounding to me.

    As for the bonus question, I don’t try to hide that I am brutally honest about what I think about the concept of praying. There are too many ways I’ve responded to this, but basically:

    Admittedly, I did recently fail to respond to my sister saying she’ll pray for me at the end of some arguement I can’t remember what it was about (I was in a state of depression at the time, she doesn’t know it and I haven’t told her.). I really wished I had said something back then. …Shit, I just wished for something.

  35. I have no problem using non-skeptical language, it’s usually just a figure of speech after all. If I sneeze, hanging out with my atheist roommate and his atheist girlfriend, they’ll say “bless you” because it’s good manners, nothing more than that.

    When I was in town with my Dad once, a woman in front of us dropped her scarf, not noticing it had disappeared, so my dad picked it up and gave it to her. Straight afterwards he said “do you reckon I’ll go to heaven for that?” to which I simply replied “no” … I don’t usually tend to take conversations like that very far with my Dad.

  36. @Garbledina:
    “I am positively infuriated by people saying things like “I am so blessed…” It is so arrogant. There is so much that is awful implied by such a seemingly simple statement.”
    – Amen (Oh shit, that’s another one!)
    I just reread “God’s Problem” by Bart Ehrman and that’s one of his points that really resonates with me. I think Chris Hitchens has also talks about this.

  37. I try to take these statements along with the intention and context behind them.

    For example, “I’ll pray for you” could be taken in one of two ways. If I have a nasty cold and someone says they’ll pray for me to get better, that strikes me as just their way of showing sympathy and kindness by letting me know they care and that my predicament will be on their thoughts. That’s quite a nice thing to say!

    On the other hand “I’ll pray for you” can be used aggressively. Oh, you’re an unrepentant atheist? Well… I’ll pray for you in the hopes that God will turn you Christian. This use puts a nice-sounding rhetorical spin on a verbal bitch-slap, so I react accordingly.

    As for my own usage – teleological metaphors are just too damn useful to weed out of language altogether. Statements like “water wants to flow downhill” are a lot snappier than more technically-accurate equivalents.

    I swear in Christian.

    Other kinds of statements never cross my lips – things like “it must be fate” or something like that. I find it very hard to suppress a critical response to this kind of comment.

    For example, my girlfriend and I have recently moved flats, and are very happy with our new place. However, while we were still looking we found a house for rent that we really liked and was in our price range, but someone else go there first. I was a bit dissapointed, but my girlfriend took it hard.

    In the car on the way home (I’m driving):
    GF: “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
    ME: … *pause* … “Well, yeah, I guess.”
    GF: “Huh? That was awkward.”
    ME: “Sorry about that. Don’t worry: It wasn’t meant to be.” (assertively)
    GF: “No, seriously, what’s wrong? You’re hiding something.”
    ME: “This is one of those skeptical quirky things that just annoy you. Seriously, don’t worry about it. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
    GF: “No, tell me.”
    ME: *sigh* “Okay. It wasn’t meant to be, because there is no ‘meant to be’. No such thing. Shit just happens.”
    GF: … *pause* … (annoyed) “I’m trying to make myself feel better here!”
    ME: “I told you to leave it alone.”
    GF: *huffs*
    ME: … *pause*… “Baby?”
    GF: *huffs again*
    ME: (mock serious) “It’s alright. It wasn’t meant to be.”
    GF: *attempts to huff again with a straight face*
    ME: “Now you’re just trying not to laugh. I win! You secretly think I’m adorable.”
    GF: *collapses into laughter* “Yeah, fine. Shut up. I’m still cross with you.”
    ME: *grins smugly*

  38. I’ve given up on trying to eliminate “Oh my god” from my vocabulary. It never meant anything religious to me anyway.

    I have tried to get rid of “Thank god,” though. There’s usually someone or something more appropriate to thank. When someone found out a cat I’m fostering didn’t have to go to a kill shelter recently, she said “Thank god” and like others have mentioned, my immediate reaction was “Thank ME, I’m the one who did it.” Which probably goes back to my parents not teaching me about Santa Claus, for which I’ve been eternally grateful.

    However, if someone says “I’m praying for you” (the nice way, not the aforementioned snarky way, which is a whole other thing) my response is “thank you.” I simply interpret those words to mean “I’m thinking about you/I care about you” and I am not about to demean that kind sentiment with my own views on religion and prayer. Kind wishes are in too short a supply as it is.

  39. It someone says they will pray for me I do one of two things..

    One- just let them say it, and keep in mind they are just being nice.. treating me the way that would want to be treated etc.. blah blah..

    Two- Say something casual like, nah… save your prayers for something more deserving! Thanks tho…

    I guess it depends on the attitude and tone…

  40. When someone says they will pray for me I always cheerfully say “Good luck to you too!” I know they mean well so it doesnt bother me.

  41. I’ve mellowed in my old age, and tend to smile & nod to take it in the manner intended when someone expresses . . .something…when I sneeze. I do tend to try to train my close associates to NOT bless me. One religious-ish friend kindly changed her habitual phrase to “don’t sneeze on the upholstry”, until her mother heard her say it.

    When an acquaintance is around me enough that I’m unwilling to do the smile&nod thing, I start by asking “which god?” My friends are geeks, and so I’ve been blessed by Thor, Chthulu, FSM, Anansi, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, Athena, and the Goddess.

    What do I say? Well, I’m practical. Normally something like “Can I get you a klenex?”

    (& @here_fishy has my cotw vote!)

  42. I’ve been using the lesser-known Homer Simpson line, “Sweet merciful crap!” for a while instead of “Oh my god.” “Gesundheit” comes naturally, since my grandfather spoke German and used it while I was growing up.

    I don’t get bothered when someone offers prayers, as it is done in kindness. It’s when people ask for prayers that I get pissy.

  43. I tried to stop saying ‘god’ in phrases like “oh my god” or “thank god” for a while, but I ended up replacing ‘god’ with ‘fuck’. And, it turns out that Polite Company (particularly the kind that pays me) tends to see “oh my god” as a whole lot more polite than “oh my everloving fuuuuuuck”.

    I’ve come to see swearing in Christian as a cultural thing, a side-effect of being raised Catholic. For me, the phrase “jeeeesus fuck” evokes deities even less than delightfully entertaining pastimes. It’s just an exclamation.

    Also, isn’t blasphemy a victimless crime? Oh, and it’s illegal to blaspheme here in Ireland, so I try and do it daily, at the very least.

    Also, re the whole ‘i’ll pray for you’ thing, I had a bit of a waffle about that there last week, I’ll go dig it up:

  44. Surely taking one of the lord’s names in vain is a testament* to one’s irreligion?

    Personally, I like the Aussie phrase “good on ya” as an alternative to some uses of “bless you”. And I’ve noticed myself using “goodness” and “my goodness”, “goodness me” more often – that started as joke/faux politeness, but it’s caught on. There are times when a good old “Jesus Motherfucking** CHRIST!” is required.

    If only his name wasn’t quite so fricative.

    * (sorry)
    ** which is a scripturally orthodox descriptor, if you think about it

  45. My partner and I are both rationalists/atheists/followers of Cthulhu.

    As such, we tend to bend religious-based references to either incorporate our one true lord (who will awaken from his slumber to eat humanity alive) or simply science.

    Common phrases include…

    “What in the name of Science is going on here!”
    “Science DAMNIT!”
    Or, on sneezing…
    “May the great Cthulhu consume you / your mucus.”
    Other responses to a cough/sneeze include:
    “May Cthulhu come to collect you.”
    “May rigorous scientific testing locate the cause of your illness.”

    If I am in the company of fundies that I am actually NOT attempting to avoid offending, I also find a way to combine deadwoodian expletives and more traditional, blasphemous ones.

    Examples include:
    “Jesus fuck it!”
    and the traditional 30th century expletive already mentioned by a few people here…
    “Sweet Zombie Jesus!”

  46. I have made no attempt to remove any “religious phrases” from my every day language. But for anything said with intentional meaning I never use God.
    Recently it was awkward. My mother was going into surgery. She had a very large chance of not getting out of the surgery alive. And 100% chance of dying if she didn’t have surgery.
    As she was wheeled away, I was desperate to say something reassuring to her and to me. This is the moment when “God Bless You, or I will be praying, would be perfect. But I had nothing but “Good Luck.” Which after I said it felt quite trite and awful. As well as almost as pointless as God Bless.

    “I will be thinking about you” would have been obvious and said to someone who believes in prayer – it would almost seem mean spirited.

    Mom came out fine. But that was a moment when I realized why people like to pray in situations where they have no control. It makes you feel that you have contributed something. And it makes the person you are praying for feel you gave something.

    We just get to feel helpless. Which is real, but harder.

  47. I usually use the term “gods’ in frustration, or “smeg.” Actually I use smeg alot. “Goodness” only in the presence of my boy, or the in-laws.

  48. If you respond to someone’s well wishes with a disproof of God’s existence, all you’re going to convince them of is that atheists are assholes. Just say thanks and shut the fuck up.

    I still use “superstitious” phrases all the time. The mess in my garage is either “god’s own collection” or “hell’s own collection” of junk depending on what kind of mood I’m in. If you have a problem with that then may god send a rabid monkey to bite your face off.

    What, are you afraid people are going to accuse you of really secretly believing in Yahweh or something? No one would ever do *that*.

  49. @ James Fox

    “One time I did tell someone that I would prefer they actually did something instead of pray ”

    Amen James. Amen.

  50. I try not to say “Bless you” Instead I opt for “Don’t die.” Or “Dude! Cover your mouth.”

    I still say “Oh God” during sex though. “Oh emptiness” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
    Although, a well timed reference to the big bang might work.

  51. @bguppy: Your comment suddenly reminded me of a Jewish woman I knew who reacted to getting one of those creepy but basically inoffensive baby-Jesus Christmas cards by getting massively insulted. She actually said to those people who were nice enough to think of her at the holidays, “You KNOW I’m JEWISH, right?” And I was supposed to be supportive of that attitude. You know, as a “fellow Jew.”

    Bet she’s not on their Christmas card list anymore. Or any other lists. And I bet she did wonders for Jewish-Christian relations with that little stunt.

  52. I used to use “good god!” all the time, but now I make a conscious effort to use “sweet science!” (gotta keep the alliteration)

  53. I have trained myself to start using “dear non-existent deity!” or a variation thereof. It not only makes me smile to use it but it is already starting to spread to some of my fellow non-believers. I feel virulent like cholera or ebola, but in a good way.

  54. If someone mentions praying I usually respond with “Oh, I don’t believe in superstition” if at the end of a discussion/argument someone says that they will pray for me I respond “and I’ll THINK for you”

  55. I use ‘goddammit’ a lot but that’s about it for god references.
    I hate hate good luck though. I think it belittles the effort that people put into their accomplishments. When people with me good luck I say, “I don’t need luck. I’m going to do well based on my own merit.”

  56. @here_fishy: Jumping on the bandwagon here, but that’s definitely worth COTW.

    I get really irritated with people who touch wood; and with the “it wasn’t meant to be” schtick – surely that means I wasted my time even bothering!

  57. @DrBunsen: “** which is a scripturally orthodox descriptor, if you think about it” – Glad I was home, as the bark of laughter would have scared my coworkers into asking me what was funny, and, well….

    @bguppy:”What, are you afraid people are going to accuse you of really secretly believing in Yahweh or something?” – I’m all for politeness, but am also a firm believer that many of the parents of the creationists were smart people who let others feed their children absolute crap because they didn’t want to come across as anti-religion and therefore not part of their local community. Think of Mark Twain’s famous works being lambasted for being racist *now*, while back then, it was just the way all people talked. I’d rather get the crap out of the language, because language does affect people’s thinking, and it’s not going to go until someone stands up and says “I really don’t like hearing about the christian belief all the time.”

    Oh, and “No one would ever do *that*” – they do. All the time. If you are a descent person, they assume you are of their faith, because only their faith produces descent people. Unless there are descent people who happen to be atheist and publicly consistent about it.

  58. A good freind of mine is an Osteopath. I have a recurring tendonitis problem in my elbow and he was giving me a treatment (for free), massage, manipulation, that sort of thing. Then he went “let’s do some accupuncture”.

    I don’t believe in accupuncture and I didn’t want it, but I let him do it as he was trying to help me. I felt bad even for thinking “I know this is a waste of time and effort”, but I never said anything, and how I feel like a bit of hypocrite for accepting it. Mmmmmm…

    That leads me to another question, namely, does the placebo effect work the other way? i.e. even if there is chance that a treatment could work, if you’re adamant in your mind that it won’t, will that also affect the result?

  59. It’s a mix for me. If it’s harder for me to leave it out and replace the phrase with something else I’m not really going to bother losing it. And if I hurt myself and say “Goddamnit!” I won’t get on myself for not correcting it. It’s ingrained. I can’t possibly change every phrase I use that has an origin I don’t agree with. How would I tell someone what day of the week it is if they ask?

  60. I try to eliminate references to god in my speech, but I fail pretty often. I catch myself halfway through. So I tend to use “Oh my gods” or some variation thereof. I’m not polytheist, it’s just funny to me. I’ll also use “oh my ever-beloved deities” on occasion. I’ve partially replaced “holy shit” with “unholy shit” after I saw it used in an album review.

  61. I tend to say “for the love of bob” instead of god. Other than that, I probably say a lot of “blasphemous” stuff like “christ on a crutch” etc. I’ve never let my atheism get in the way of a few stupid words. I honestly don’t see the big deal in using a few jesus h. christs.

  62. I see no reason to avoid coloquial expressions. Skepticism is a tool for me, not an obsession. I use it in retaining control of my choices, I try to use it in helping others do the same. But I see no need to make a crusade of it, to carry it around like a banner 24/7.
    I also refuse to guard every word I say all the time. In professional settings, it is natural and appropriate to do so. I do that often eno0ugh that in everyday conversation (or informal situations in general), I reserve the right to blunder, express myself clumsily, use words that are fanciful, empty or even inacurate.

  63. i consciously made it a point to stop saying “bless you” years ago (because god or no god it’s a ridiculous thing to say)…now i automatically say “gesundheit” and whenever i hear someone say “bless you” i think “really? you were worried their soul was escaping?”

    i do say “oh my god” and “jesus fucking christ” and stuff like that, though…all blasphemy is good blasphemy. :)

    when someone says “i’ll pray for you” it depends on the situation. if it’s a delicate one, like a serious illness in the family, i’ll let it slide with a “thanks.” if it’s more casual, i’ll say something like “well, at least someone’s covering my bases, because i’m sure not praying!”

    but there was one time when i posted a link on facebook about a friend who was injured in an accident and looking for donations to pay his medical bills. a friend re-posted the link on her page, and her mother commented “i’ll pray for him.” i commented “prayer is nice, but a donation would be better! :)” and she sent me a very angry message about how god heals people and money doesn’t. i wrote back pointedly but respectfully that even if the prayer did help to heal my friend’s broken hip, the hosptial would still demand payment for it.

    she never responded. :(

  64. @Garbledina: I TOTALLY agree with the “blessed” thing. I see it mostly in response comments when someone posts a status about having a shitty day. “But you are so blessed!” etc.

    One offending “friend” constantly updates with things along the order of “the Good Lord has answered our prayers! I have been blessed with a job offer, and we have been blessed to find a suitable apartment to move into instead of my parents basement. Thank you for your prayers! I knew I was meant for greatness.” When this happens, I usually don’t comment directly, but I’m so pissed that I’ll copy it into an e-mail and dismantle it in all my anger and send it to a close (and also skeptical) friend. Don’t thank random-ass people in your life, thank the hiring manager who made the decision to offer you a job. This wasn’t magic hoodoo, it was a real series of events where real people performed actions with real consequences for you and your life. Don’t sell them short, and DON’T sell short the other applicants who were decided against for whatever reason. I’m sure it wasn’t because of not being “blessed” or “chosen.”

    Rant over.

    I use “hell’s bells” because I think it’s funny, but I don’t really know the root of it. Also, “sheeshers” as another bastardization of jesus.

    Now that I think of it, I need to come up with a creative place to damn people to. Any ideas?

  65. @Elizabeth, how about New Jersey?

    Sorry, NJ. ;-) Parts of it are very nice.
    One of the nicest people I know is from New Jersey. (backpedal, backpedal.)

    OTOH, parts of it aren’t very nice. Like the bit on the turnpike where my car broke down once, near the factory that manufactures Bad Sneaker Smell. Or wherever Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

  66. I’m late to this party, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I do make a very conscious effort to say exactly what I mean and reflect what I believe whenever I speak. That means being careful to never call adult women “girls” as well as never saying “thank god” when I don’t believe any god did anything I should be thankful for.

    I have been making an effort not to censor myself when I think a swear word, which has caused me to say “jesus” and “god damn it” a lot more, but those words in that context don’t have a religious meaning to me any more than “shit” means excrement or “fuck” means copulation when used casually or shouted in traffic.

    I am the opposite of everyone else on the “bless you” issue. I HAVE to say it. I can’t imagine anyone being able to not say something when someone sneezes, or changing what you first learned to say. To me, it’s a deeply ingrained automatic response. I was not raised to be religious, and I didn’t have a clue what the word “bless” even meant until I was at least ten or so, so to me it has always been a meaningless noise that comes out any time a human or other animal sneezes. I pronounce it “bleshoo”, which is even more meaningless.

  67. Nah. Life’s too short.

    I do have a tendency to randomly substitute the word “dog” for the word “god”, since it almost always makes just as much sense. That’s more due to a childish sense of mischief than any sort of personal statement.

    I use words with religious (or superstitious) connotations all the time. One rather has to, otherwise one runs out of words. Being resolutely British, for example, I’ll often describe something as “bloody annoying”, which is actually By Our Lady annoying if one goes back far enough. That way madness lies – if we push this to the extreme, I won’t be able to talk to anybody called Chris or eat Angel Delight.

    I like Angel Delight.

  68. I sometimes use Maude in place of god: “For Maude’s sake, get off the fucking table!” Or: “Thank Maude the Mormons passed by our house.” And, since I’m a big fan of the musical Wicked, Oz works as well: “Thank Oz I don’t have any ALFs (Annoying Little Fucks) in my classes this semester.”

    I’ll also pluralize, as in response to a question about something happening, “Gods willing and the creeks don’t rise.” Yeah, I speak Southern US.

  69. i was a classics major in college, and my favorite professor always used “Jupiter!” as an expression of surprise/glee or sudden frustration. i’ve always intended to utilize it myself, but i find that “oh my god” is just so socially ingrained in me that i’ll say it without even thinking sometimes. when writing i tend toward slightly more ambiguous variations like omg or gawd.
    i definitely question my use of phrases like “bless you” or “thank god” and sometimes i avoid them, but other times i rationalize it by acknowledging that lots of words have evolved beyond their original meaning or context. for example, goodbye is just a condensed form of the phrase “god be with ye.”

    as for other people’s expression of beliefs i’m skeptical of, i can usually just ignore it, but i started a new job this summer and my ultra-christian coworker has a way of turning any conversation into a testament of her beliefs that god will take care of her/god has a plan, etc. and all the polite nodding and biting my tongue is starting to tire me out.

  70. I am all about the Jesus when cursing. I keep hoping some religious person will call me on it so I can say, “Oh, it’s OK, I don’t believe in god so it doesn’t matter when I say it.”

    I hate saying ‘bless you’ or having it said to me for sneezes. Not because of the blessing but just because I think it’s stupid. Why should other people be acknowledging someone’s sneeze? If I cough, belch, fart, cry, or blow my nose, I either say “excuse me” or pretend it didn’t happen. Why can’t sneezes be treated the same way? I don’t want to know that people are paying attention to my when I’m trying to make sure I don’t have snot on my face.

  71. I have been saying “salud” instead of “bless you” for about 15 years. I live in L.A. and work with mostly Latinos so it works. I think I’ve completely excised “bless you” from my vocab. I also use, “Thank Maude” which I find amusing and always makes me think of Bea Arthur. Not a bad thing overall.

  72. I’m an atheist and I say: Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jesus H. Christ, Jesus Harold Christ (as in “Harold be thy name”), Sweet Zombie Jesus, goddammit, goddam, dammit, damn you, fucking hell, go to hell, good luck, holy shit, oh my God, bless you, the devil made me do it, Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, and if I feel like being flip, zounds.

    Just my opinion, but I don’t see the point in being twee with atheism-based custom-made analogues to common phrases that most people religious or otherwise don’t mean as literal invocations of religion anyway. They’re just words. The cutesy phrases are invariably awful, off-brand knockoffs: they come off as Bubba Cola instead of Coke. “Oh my Flying Spaghetti Monster” sounds, I’m sorry, fucking terrible. You say that and it takes people about 3 seconds too long to get the gag, and then you’ve turned the intention of the original phrase (“wow”) into something else (“wow–and hey, I’m not religious, so don’t go getting any ideas!”)

    I’ve never said, “Jesus Christ, there are a lot of monkeys in here,” and had someone say, “Oh, you mentioned Jesus, so you’re religious?” It doesn’t happen.

    When people say “I’ll pray for you,” I take that as a sign that they’re thinking about me and hoping the best happens, which is nice — so I genuinely appreciate it, say thanks, and head on my merry way. If I’m expected to say something similar in return, I say I’m thinking of them, because that’s true.

  73. I think it was George Hrab who came up with this one, but I could be wrong. I’ve been actively using “GEORDI’S VISOR!” as an exclamation of frustation instead of the normal GODDAMMIT.

  74. Nah, I can’t be arsed. It’s ingrained into the language. And since it’s essentially taking the lords’s name in vain or whatever that’s called, it’s a bit of casual blasphemy.
    And anyone who’s met me will probably happily attest anyway that I have no etiquette and my only manners are bad manners. ;~)

  75. @rekre8: My last paragraph was facetious.

    Good time to speak up: when creationists are trying to take over the school curriculum. Bad time to speak up: when your Christian friend says he’ll pray for you. If you respond to that with something like “I’ll think for you” or “how about doing something useful”, then you deserve to get beat the fuck up.

  76. “Do you avoid common phrases that refer to superstitious or non-skeptical concepts like god, wishes, prayer, or luck? Do you get annoyed when other people do?”

    No. A fundie aunt once had a fit over the exclamation, “My God!” because, she said, overuse robs the phrase of the reverential meaning it should have. So now I use them whenever I can.

    “How do you handle social situations in which a casual friend or acquaintance expresses a belief in something you’re skeptical of? For example, “I’ll pray that you’re feeling better soon.” ”

    I usually say something like, “You do that.”

  77. I like OMFSM in certain circles where people understand it, but otherwise, OMG is more appropriate. Similarly, if my audience is mostly non-Christian, I’ll refer to years as either CE (Common Era) or BCE (Before the Common Era), but I figure that if Christians can put up with days of the week and months of the year that are named for Pagan gods, I can refer to their god in order to be understandable by using AD and BC.

  78. Personally, I don’t get too hung up on “nonskeptical” turns of phrase. For example, when someone sneezes, I say “bless you”. It’s a courtesy rather than a genuine religious blessing.

    However, when queried as to how I, as an apparently “militant” atheist, could bear to hear – let alone speak – such phrases, I generally switch to appealing to “All-Powerful Atheismo!”. I find that defuses any possible tension.

    I think that if I were to make a fuss every time such a phrase was used, or to go out of my way to avoid using them myself, I might fairly earn a reputation as a bit of a git-wizard. There are much more important skeptical ideas and concepts to push than this.

    To pick an example, how many more people do you think would get their kid the MMR, just because you made a fuss about barely religious or superstitious sayings?

  79. I say “salud” which means health in spanish. I’m puertorican so people at work don’t think much of it and it’s what I grew up saying.
    I do sometimes say “me cago en dios” = I shit in god without thinking.

  80. I don’t bother to remove the phrases from my vocab. I don’t generally remark when people make comments about praying or the like unless the comment is specifically annoying or offensive in nature. Saying “God bless you” or the like – fine. Saying that “You need to accept Jesus in your heart” or “You need to do more mitzvot so your soul will accept the yoke of heaven” not ok.

  81. Interesting, I was pondering this exact question this morning because yesterday I used the phrase “please god make it stop” in reference to the vuvuzelas at the World Cup. I have no problem using phrases like this (or when others use them) even if they don’t precisely represent my literal beliefs. I even use explicitly religious language from time to time. I don’t always feel like I need to be making a skeptical statement, and I also don’t have a problem with metaphor.

  82. On “I’ll pray for you”, there is definitely the nice, well meaning version of it and the judgy version. On the nice version, I take it as “I know I’m not able to physically help at this time, but I’ll keep you and your situation in mind, in case there comes anything I can do for you”, and use “I’ll be thinking of you” myself in similar circumstances.

    When they’re being rude and aggressive, I simply ignore it, or smile faintly. It annoys them even more.

    I use ‘achoo’ instead of ‘bless you’, a habit I picked up from somewhere in late primary school. I should probably consider switching over to gesundheit one of these days.

    And there’s a lot of appealing to Eru, FSM and the IPU around my house. I also use “for sakes” and “for sakes sake” quite a bit. Removing one word was easier than substituting another, I found.

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