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Should I Say That?


I’m dating a guy who insists that it’s OK to use expressions like "Oh gosh" and "Oh gee." I think these phrases take God’s name in vain. He disagrees because he says they are socially acceptable terms. What do you think?

Steve Answers:

When two people disagree on something, they often look for a third opinion. I took my Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition and looked up the words you mentioned. Here’s what I found:

gee . . . used as a direction to turn to the right or move ahead. (This was a surprise to me! Let’s go "gee" at the next stoplight, OK?)

gee . . . [euphemism for Jesus]–used as an introductory expletive or to express surprise or enthusiasm. (Such as, Oh gee, I don’t know.)

gee . . . the letter g (as in A, B, C, D, E, F, G . . .); slang: "a thousand dollars" (Hey, I could use another gee.)

In English the word "gee" can have any of these four meanings. My guess is that you’re thinking primarily about the second use–the shortened form of the name "Jesus." Perhaps your disagreement comes regarding whether it is being used as an introductory expletive (bad) or to express surprise or enthusiasm (maybe good?).

In the same dictionary I looked up the word "gosh" and found only one meaning: [euphemism for God] used as a mild oath or to express surprise. (Oh gosh, I didn’t know that.)

Among most Christians, swearing is looked down upon. Using God’s name or some form of it in a glib manner, or to actually call for God to do something at your whim doesn’t seem appropriate for followers of God. The two phrases you asked about are mild forms of harsher, more direct forms of swearing.

When people look to Scripture for input about swearing, they’re most apt to look up the third commandment, which states, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name" (Exodus 20:7). A simple paraphrase of the third commandment is to treat God’s name with respect.

In Bible times when someone "swore," it was to seal a promise by taking a vow or an oath. That made it extra serious. That’s quite different from using God’s name or some form of it in casual conversation, as a filler, or to express anger.

In the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told listeners, "But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:34-37).

In the days of Jesus, people believed that taking an oath (swearing) meant you really meant it. But if you were swearing by heaven and earth, it really didn’t matter. Swearing "by" Jerusalem didn’t matter either. But swearing "toward" Jerusalem did matter. Jesus basically said, Quit playing games with your phony oaths. Let "Yes" mean "Yes" and let "No" mean "No." Drop the oaths and just tell the truth instead of needing to add, "And I really mean it this time."

Gee and gosh are sort of vegetarian forms of swearing. And vegetarian forms of swearing offend some people and don’t offend others. It depends on whom you are around. So if the person you’re dating thinks it is "socially acceptable" to use mild swearing, that should tell you something, shouldn’t it? Invite him to broaden his vocabulary, or else accept his invitation to talk about an interest the two of you apparently share–God! 

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