The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


January 8, 2008

OMG a no-no?

We’ve all heard it ... people get excited or shocked and squeal, “Oh, my God” (OMG for Web users). A Washington Post writer and Chicago Tribune columnist Manya A. Brachear both raised the issue of whether “Oh, my God!” is just part of everyday vocabulary or profanity. Here’s some of the views:

• Timothy Jay, author of Cursing in America, said: “Oh my God” is one of the 10 most commonly heard expletives. It’s often intended to be a more ladylike substitute for something more obscene. Jay's research shows that it’s often a euphemism for something else—he doesn’t consider it profanity at all.

• A boutique store employee invoked the Ten Commandments: “You shall not call the name of your Lord God in vain,” and a Yahoo user said: “Every Christian should be outraged that the name of the Lord is used with such disrespect. The point is that people use his name as an insignificant figure of speech.’’

• John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Manhattan Institute, said the literal meaning of the exclamation is long gone: “Any expression loses its power over time. The notion that you’re referring to God at all is even more distant from our own cognition. ... It’s just something that erupts out of you, like ‘golly’ or ‘gee.’ ”

So as Brachear asks: “What do you say? Is Oh, my God a no-no?”

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