or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Swear Like A Librarian

   August 9th, 2011

No Swearing signI hope this post doesn't get blocked by your filtering software.

When not at work, some librarians I know have the filthiest mouths of anyone I've encountered. But at the desk they obviously can't use bad words, so I got curious about the public-safe language librarians use to replace swear words. That's the catch-22 of libraries: serving the public can be stressful, but working at a public service desk means being limited in how we can respond when something goes wrong.

I asked around a bit and here's a list of some choice "safe" words library staff use:

  • some old standards: Shoot, Fudge, Bologny
  • Jeepers Crow
  • Flip
  • Fly me (to the moon)
  • Mother of pearl
  • What the what?
  • For the love of Pete
  • For cripe's sake
  • Frick
  • Shut the front door
  • Sugar Honey Iced Tea

The last one is my favorite - read it again, but just the first letter of each word.

I'm sure everyone has their favorites - what are your patron-safe swear words? Please share them in the comments or make #swearlikealibrarian a trending topic.

When I was originally working on this post, I thought some gansta rap-style image would make an appropriate illustration. I couldn't find one exactly right, but I did think this was funny:

I Like Big Books And I Cannot Lie sign

Good job Hillsdale Free Public Library - Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud.

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128 Responses to “Swear Like A Librarian”

  1. theindielibrarian Says:

    I just did a post on this not too long ago!

    My personal favorites are
    * NERDS! a la Liz Lemon.
    * Juggernauts!
    * Jiminy Crickets! (or Christmas. depends on my mood)

  2. Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian Says:

    cheese whiz

  3. Sarah Says:

    When I was visiting an elementary school, one of the boys asked for a book that was checked out. His very serious reply

    “Son of a Dragon!”

    I still giggle when I think about it.

  4. clueless sage Says:

    I’m fond of:


  5. Sarah Bourne Says:


  6. Jeff Scott Says:

    I liked What the What! I will have to use that one!

  7. Victoria Says:

    Fig-lick (doesn’t need to make sense, just have satisfyingly abrupt syllables)

  8. Susan Says:

    In our department it is “Bean soup!” or “Pasta frijole!”

  9. Emily Lloyd Says:

    I say “Rats!”–another old standard. But I love & will immediately adopt “Sugar Honey Iced Tea.”

  10. Emily Says:

    “Sheesh ka bob!” is my current go-to swear. I’ve developed the habit of stretching out the first syllable of the word I really want to say and then seeing what evolves instead.
    I also say “Son of a Monkey!”

  11. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jeff: “What the What” is a Liz Lemon phrase from 30 Rock – careful about using it though, because it’s more addicting than you might think.

    @Emily Lloyd: I forgot about “Rats” – I say that too. And “Nuts.”

    @Emily: I really like “Son of a Monkey” – I might have to adopt that one.

    @Everyone else: these are hilarious – this might be my favorite post ever; thanks for sharing.

  12. Mara Says:

    I use “Sugar Plum Fairies” and the u in sugar is usually drawn out.

  13. Brad Says:

    Cheese and Rice!

  14. Lee Says:

    Gosh durn it to heck! OR Blankety blank blank blankety blank!

  15. Aimee Says:

    Non-american slang can be very satisfying since it’s usually not seen as obscene here. The Brits have great slang. “Bollocks!” is good for venting. Don’t use “bugger” however – it sounds a little too similar to one of the words you may be trying to avoid.

  16. Abigail Says:

    Son of a Motherless Hamster
    Holy Hedgehogs Batman
    Angels and Ministers


  17. ash966 Says:

    I enjoy furshlugginer for it’s nice New York Jewish/Mad Magazine feel:


  18. Bookworm84 Says:

    Mine is shuckidarns. I got it from my grandma. One time one of my siblings (or maybe a cousin) asked her what it meant, and her reply was, “It’s better than saying sh*t d*mn!”

  19. Charm Ruhnke Says:

    @ Aimee – I like not non-American, non-English. Offda was a favorite for years. Merde is too well known to use now days.

  20. Sensible Shoes Says:

    Once, when working in a school, I found myself furious and saying to a group of boys, “How many times am I going to have tell you to get back to work? Jeepers Creepers!”

    I admit that once in the public library, I told a particularly unpleasant patron, “You have a real nice night” while conveying something entirely different.

  21. Tess Says:

    This post makes me think of the young adult book Catherine, Called Birdy. Her favorite swear word was Corpus Bones.

  22. Audra Says:

    this is an awesome post with even better responses!!
    I feel so much better with my foul thoughts and semi dirty mouth behind the circ desk πŸ™‚

  23. elocin Says:

    My favorite… Son of a motherless goat.

  24. Suzette Says:

    Some of the ones we use are
    Funnel cake
    and the one I use the most is Silly Putty

  25. Sara Says:

    Good post. It makes me think of a book, too — A Wind in the Door, when Calvin 0’Keefe adopts “fewmets” (dragon droppings) as his new swear word.

  26. Val Says:

    I use “friggerdiggers” a lot, which came from my college roommate, and is really fun to say. I also say “sonuva” (like son of a…)

  27. Dan Nieman Says:

    Here are a few if you REALLY want to swear like a librarian.

    Dewey Decimal System “G-D Damn it”

    Andrew Carnegie “J-s-s Chr-st”

    AACR2 “Hell”

    It’s a thought!

  28. Becky Wallace Says:

    All my favorite cuss words I’ve learned from my Grandma. They include:

    Flippin haggas
    And if you’re feeling Catholic there is always, Mother Mary Full of Grace! (I’m not catholic, but it seems to roll off my tongue like I was.)

  29. Jim Says:

    Whisky Tango Foxtrot is a favorite.

  30. EKJ Says:

    Our family likes “Tartar Sauce!” and “Barnacles!” (both from Spongebob) or “Son of a Nutcracker!” (from the movie Elf), but I most frequently use “Holy Guacamole!” – not sure where that came from…

  31. Susan Says:

    Cheese and Rice!

  32. Elissa Says:

    Pita! (stands for pain in the ass)

    Christ on a cross –popular in the South

    For a while my son thought, “Cameron Diaz” was a swear word. It was hilarious, so we tried for as long as possible not to crack up in front of him.

  33. Sherri Says:

    Some that I’ve used:

    Shostakovich (it just sounds like swearing)
    Shucky Darn Darn (particularly affective in front of military members, always gets a laugh).
    (Dirty Words!) learned this one from a lovely English lady.

  34. CB Says:

    One of my long time favorites has been “Egg-Suckin’ Dog”. It sounds worse than much actual profanity.

  35. Joye Says:

    I often say Phooey. And Drat, Darn, Dang, Shoot, and Fudge. My favorite, though, is “Oh, bother!” or just “Bother!” I’m a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh. πŸ˜‰

  36. Felice Says:

    I work in a School Library (grades 6-12) and everyone here gets VERY creative:

    RATS!(very old school and the kids look around in terror when I say it.)
    HUMBALADIGGA! (an old family traditional stand-in for a curse)
    BOOYACKA! (3x fast – an urban favorite)
    SHIZNUTS! (I think the kids started that one)
    Sugar Honey Ice Tea (I learned that when I was 10)
    MACY’S WINDOW! (New Yorkers know the rest.)

  37. Linda Lambert Says:

    The fictional Miss Zukas (read Jo Dereske’s newest book, Farewell Ms. Zukas)always says “Oh, Faulkner.”

  38. Jen Says:

    My Grandmother used to use Shitania in front of us when we were little until I asked who she was. (I was 6 at the time)

    When I am being PC, I tend to go for cartoon sayings like Jeepers Creepers, Zoinks!, or muttering Frick’n Frack’n. A good GRRRRRRR, ARGGGG, or Doh! can also be effective. The occasional “Oh, bite me” may slip out occasionally when I am really frustrated.

  39. Day Says:

    My mom’s go-to when we were kids was “son of a sea biscuit!” (She may have meant Seabiscuit, though I can neither confirm nor deny that.)

  40. Kate Says:

    It reminds me of the “safe” version of Snakes on a Plane: I am sick and tired of these monkey trucking snakes on this Monday to Friday plane!

  41. Diana Says:

    Great Blog! When I moved to the South from the Midwest, I soon found out that “Bless your heart!” is not a compliment.

  42. Rachel Says:

    When I was in high school, my drama class read over a script that included the word ..sugar honeyed iced tea. My friend read right over it with his own “librarian swear”: oh poodiddles! It was just so innocent and goofy I couldn’t stop giggling!

    Another of my favorites – my mom and grandparents are English, and so I use “sod it” a lot lol. And my mom says “shine a light!” a lot too – you really have to let the “shhhhh-” drag out for emphasis;P It’s great:)

  43. theindielibrarian Says:

    I just remembered my friend likes to say “rat snacks!”

  44. abelard Says:

    From W.C. Fields: ‘Godfrey Daniel!’
    There’s also ‘what a crock of shitake mushrooms!’, but that is perhaps too close to ‘s*#t’ for some occasions.

  45. Joni Says:

    poop on a stick
    crap in a burger basket
    jesus martha
    what the pho
    I use all these regularly….
    will immediately adopt ‘rat snacks’

  46. Jeff Scott Says:

    We can go very kid-like with the Penguins of Madagascar Hoover DAM!

    or Toy Story

    Son of a Building Block

    Also, congrats on the link to Huffington Post

  47. Lesley Says:

    My 7th grade nephew introduced me to “Bob Saget!”

  48. AareneX Says:

    What the frog?

  49. The Dish Says:

    Frack and also frackity
    wtf (spoken letters)

    all come to mind. I use these more on student workers than patrons though, for they incite my ire more.

  50. Tree grows in Brooklyn Says:

    Snap is a good sub for crap.

    Referring to things as a “cluster” is oddly satisfying!

  51. val Says:

    I used to booktalk in our middle school and once read a passage from When the Legends Die by Hal Borland without realizing it included the dreaded word Hell and caused a major ruckus. Perhaps it was my era but when and where I grew up Hell was a location and crap was the stuff that accumulated on the kitchen table. Some of the hoops people expect us to jump through are just plain ridiculous. On the other hand, I much prefer a good Shakespearean insult to the common run of curse words since most of their use is simple laziness.

  52. One Ill Writer Says:

    My gradeschool basketball coach suggested we say the following substitutes in times of frustration:

    rice cake

    I still say biscuits all the time. It’s satisfying without being offensive.

  53. K Says:

    I am particularly fond of “SCROD”. It’s very satisfying to say.

  54. Lynnda Van Lightning Says:

    Lick a lizard….

    Oh fire truck…..

    what the frup… or fruit….

    love sugar honey iced tea ! hadn’t heard it ever

    son of a biscuit…..

  55. aallen66 Says:

    I use monkey/monkeys or monkey butts a lot. Also sugar-jets – from an older coworker years ago.

  56. KPZomB Says:

    Shitake Mushrooms!
    What the Deuce?!
    Mother Trucker!
    Pirate Ship! (Sounds like pile of…)

  57. mindy Says:

    I grew up with “Fiddle Sticks.”
    I have no idea where it came from.

  58. Annie Johnson Says:

    I had a maths teacher who was fond of “rat’s patootie”, as in “I don’t give a rat’s patootie what you think, missie!”

  59. Rebecca Jones Says:

    I LOVE this post!! I too use the “holy shitake mushrooms” bcuz I swear like a trooper. And ‘Holy Crapioly” is a fav. My mom always said “kiss my Roonie!”

  60. Smitty the Librarian Says:

    I have a co-worker who uses “cheese and crackers” a lot…while genuflecting.

  61. Tayo Says:

    A rather long old favorite: ‘Born in the gutter – son of a cross-eyed donkey’

  62. Eloise Academic Says:

    Frustration when helping students with databases, no full-text found: “Oh, beans!” Other times of frustration, “Cram!’ (marriage of crap and damn)
    We are Librarians! We swear with the best of ’em.

  63. LuLu Says:

    I like to add some literary flair to my fake cursing: “Oh, Faulkner!”

  64. shushie Says:

    Fun post!
    Because I’m a prolific swearer off the clock, I’ve had some close calls but I usually catch myself in time. Things I will shout or say under my breath:

    “crap on a cracker” (I don’t know where this came from)
    “fudge bucket” (this one either)
    “holy smokes”
    “scheisse” (my gran was German)
    and my personal favorite, “Curse words, curse words, curse words!”

  65. Teen Librarian Says:

    I came up with “Poopty Squat” while working with kids.

    It always gets a good belly laugh.

  66. New Swear Like a Librarian! #swearlikealibrarian – Stephen's Lighthouse Says:

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  67. Pejibaye Says:

    I’m the new director of a tiny library in east TN, coming from working with the Navy for 30 years. The contrast is stunning. The staff here includes only LADIES — real ladies. I’ve never heard any of them even use “rats” or “nuts”. I’ll have to listen more closely…

  68. heather Says:

    See you next Tuesday! (gasp!)

    and yes, I’m a librarian

  69. Cybrarian Says:

    I work in a K through 6th grade school library, so cripes always works for me. Also, gadzooks, or Jesus, Mary and Joseph give me strength if I’m truly exasperated. Doody bomb with a wedgie is a fav at home around my own kids… πŸ™‚

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  71. Chris Says:

    What a fun post! My husband and I like “Curses!” It conveys the anger we usually need to get out effectively.

  72. Kathe Says:

    “Shazbat” was Mork’s (Robin Williams) profanity on the Mork & Mindy show in the late 70’s. It conveys the proper amount of vitriol and saves you just in time from an inappropriate expletive.

  73. Fiona Says:

    I am not usually a swearer but I have personally used

    Oh Fiddle (shortened version of Fiddle de dee)
    Jimminie or Jimminie Cricket
    My Giddy Aunt

    All have been collected from my family and friends.

  74. Ruth Says:

    Fiddlesticks is a game played by individuals or in groups where the sticks are scattered randomly and collected one by one without moving the other sticks. It is a strategic game of cause and effect.

  75. John McGraw (@mcgrawfeathers) Says:

    a friend of mine’s son recently reported he’d discovered the S-word, and it is “shed.”
    I intend to use that one in the future. I shed you not.

  76. Leigh Says:

    My grandmother always used to say “crackin’ ice!”, both as a swear and as an expression of surprise. I’ve never heard anyone else say it though.

  77. M Says:

    A friend of mine and I usually use “clustercuss” usually referring to messes.

  78. Lisa Says:

    I think that “balderdash” is a good nonoffensive swear word.

  79. Barbara Says:

    Rassin’ frassin’ (thx to Loony Tunes)

  80. Millie Says:

    Crimeny Batman

    I’m usually very curse prone when not at work. πŸ™‚

  81. benighted Says:

    “Oh, follicles” used to raise a laugh – a combination of the f word and bollocks, sort of.

  82. Selina Says:

    far out!
    oh my!

  83. Senga Says:

    There are some very inventive substitutes in this lot!
    This post made me think of the TV Mini Series a number of years ago, The 10th Kingdom where one of the characters used to say “Suck an elf”. Seems effective!

  84. cheyshaven Says:

    I like “son of a biscuit”
    I also use muggle a lot.

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  86. Christina Says:

    Ha, instantly made me think of a quote from “Iron Kissed” by Patricia Briggs –

    “Cheeses crusty, got all musty, got damp on the stone of a peach,” I agreed. He looked blank, so I repeated it with proper emphasis. β€œ ChEEZ-zes crusty. Got Al -musty. Got DAMp on the StoneofapeaCH.”

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  88. Liz in Library Land Says:

    From the Obitz commercial we’ve adopted
    “What the French, Toast”
    “Lint licker”
    also I like,
    Dirty Devil
    suck a duck
    son of a bit my tongue just in time

  89. Michele Says:

    sugar nuts….

  90. Russ Says:

    One Andy Richter favorite:
    “Mother Hubbard!”

    My mom was a Snagglepuss cusser:
    “Heavens to Mergatroid!”

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  92. Larry Says:

    I sometimes use “curses and imprecations!”
    I also will use my father’s trick of describing things

    For example “The fecal material just integrated with the rotating oscillator” (sh_t just hit the fan) Sometimes I’ll just say Space Shuttle toilet (where that stuff is supposed to hit the fan since that’s how they liquify it for storage)

    And what a congregation in a nunnery! (cloister flock)

    Or in a sewage lagoon without a propulsion instrument (up sh_t creek without a paddle)

  93. Bicycle Bill Says:

    Well, there’s always the word that got Johnny Fever (from WKRP in Cincinatti) fired: “BOOGERS”

    some others:

    “Jiminy Crickets”

    “Jee-man-ee Hoss-a-phat”

    “Sacre Bleu”

    And a personal favorite β€”

    “Sack-cra-men-toe Kal-ee-for-nya” (with emphasis on the first, third, fifth, and seventh syllables).

    And then, of course, always remember to ask for any bystander “Please, pardon my Klatchian”.

  94. Ron Weasley Says:

    Merlin’s beard!
    Merlin’s pants!
    Bloody and/or bloody ‘ell!

  95. EJ Says:

    My kindergarten teacher used to say “good night!” or maybe “good knight” with the same inflection you might drawl, “well, i’ll be.” My mom cusses like a mule skinner on her own time but never in front of her 8th grade students — I’ll have to ask what she does instead. In my library work, I tend to favor “d’oh!” and “what the what” and “no-neck little monsters” (from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Anything too close to a real bad word is too dangerous, given my mom’s influence where one is fun and four or five are even better.

  96. Becky Says:

    This post makes me think of the Oskar character from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close…he had a lot of inventive swears like “succotash my Balzac, dipshiitake!” also I think he would say “Shiite Muslim!” or maybe that was from somewhere else πŸ™‚

  97. Karla Says:

    Personal favorites:

    The phrase, “Bad Words”. You get to say bad words without using any real bad words. I also describe messes as Charlie Foxtrots in place of cluster f___s(you know the rest).

  98. Molly Says:

    Another good one from 30 Rock, courtesy of Kenneth:

    “Son of married couple!”

  99. Richard Says:

    Monkey Feathers!

  100. Jenna Says:

    In cases of extreme frustration I use “Edward, Jacob and Bella!” in place of “Jesus, Joseph and Mary!” Less blasphemy, more sparkles and fursploding.

  101. Julie Says:

    I’m a big fan of
    “Kelly Clarkson!”
    a la 40-year Old Virgin

  102. Ginger Says:

    I can think of many, but these are common:
    gee whillikers
    crumb bunnies
    jeez, louise
    nargles or oh, nargles

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  104. GR Says:

    All this reminds me of “The Middleman,” whose philosophy of “Profanity cheapens the soul and weakens the mind” led to such gems as “Sweet mother of Preston Tucker!” and “Chocoholics Anonymous!” πŸ™‚ (more here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Middleman_%28TV_series%29)

  105. Eriq Says:

    My wife’s the librarian, not me, but…

    Crammins (which comes from how our son said “crayons” when he was a toddler)
    Custard (to substitute for “bastard”)

  106. tuniem Says:

    I don’t work at a public library anymore, but when I did I perfected the non-swear. Some of my favorites:

    Son of a sea cook (from Arsenic and Old Lace)
    H.R. Pufnstuf

  107. Wendy Says:

    I often use crackerjacks
    monkey ears on crackers
    cops and robbers
    sea shells and starfish

    I love Sugar Honey Ice Tea. Will have to remember that one.

  108. Jade Says:

    I use “Crab apples” often and also “Gordon Bennett”. Another favourite is “Blow me down and call me a haystack”.

  109. Dan Says:


  110. Michelle Says:

    I’m a fan of “humbug” and “bother”. I’ve also been known to say “dirty word!” or “expletive expletive exclamation mark!” when something really goes wrong.

  111. mrswhatsit Says:


  112. Kiwi Says:

    Some that I use
    Fudge Ripple
    Cheese Whiz!
    Jesum Crow
    For Pete’s Sake
    What the truck?

  113. Frankie Says:

    I switched to saying “Son of a Goose” a few years ago. I even use it at home most of the time. I had decided I didn’t want to be specist. Sure, I made up that word, but I figured it could be the next new thing after avoiding racism and sexism. So far, it hasn’t caught on. This post has inspired me to start all over, but perhaps with a theme (I like themes). So here’s my ideas:

    “Son of a shirley temple!” (Without alcohol, those are just a tease!)
    Also, “Son of a Milk Dud”
    “Jack Daniels!” for “Jesus Christ”
    “Red Hots!” when saying “hell” by itself
    “Starbursts!” or “schnapps!” for “sh–”

    I’ve found that some of my favorite swears come from Kim Harrison’s “Dead Witch Walking” series. The character Jenks, is a master at swearing. Sadly, even those are usually inappropriate for work. Except for “fairy fart”- as in “I don’t give a fairy fart.” I use that off and on.
    Thanks for all the ideas and inspiration!

  114. BAS Says:

    My favorite is holy cannoli, but I also use shimmini and frickin frackin freakin frum which usually does the trick. (my auto correct must have a headache after this post)

  115. David Regier Says:

    Got dandruff, some of it itches!

  116. Rachel Says:

    I picked up “Criminetly” a long time ago from the animated Robin Hood movie. I also tend to substitute an “Eff!” or “Hell’s bells!” which are sort of borderline but much tamer than what I’d actually like to say.

  117. Greg Says:

    I love to use, “MOTHer…PUS…BUCKet!” with lots of emphasis. Always sounds like you’re on the ragged edge.

    So many of these are completely awesome.

  118. Vern Says:

    My boss will say “Son of a crunch pup” when she gets irritated. I like that one so much I use myself now.

  119. beth Says:

    Jesus, Mary & Oprah!
    Sufferin’ Succotash!
    Fiddle crabs!
    and my personal fave when describing a nasty person – “Don’t pay her any mind – she’s just a ‘see you next Tuesday’ kinda gal.”

  120. Carol Says:

    Hamburgers! (a la Butters)

  121. AnnaK Says:

    Holy Moses!
    Shiver me timbers!
    For describing irritating patrons: wingnuts, cakesniffers (a la Lemony Snicket)

  122. Marion Says:

    At my library we also use PITA to describe particularly annoying patrons!


    BTW – See you next Tuesday is good, but leaves people wondering… try: “See You Next Time!”.

    I once heard C. Thomas Howell do an impression of Ted Turner: “Cheese and Rice!”.

    These are all wonderful, BTW!

  123. HT Says:

    Monkey Butt
    Hillybilly Hunyak
    Son of a Peanut

  124. Joyce Says:

    My mom is a retired librarian, and a few of her favorites are:

    Hell’s Bells!

  125. Amy Says:

    My coworker uses “Mother Trucker,” much to our enjoyment.

  126. So Cal Mountain Librarian Says:

    PICNIC (Problem in Chair, Not in Computer) is my favorite when working with customers who have no idea how computer illiterate they are on the PC

  127. Moira Says:

    Ye Gods and little fishes
    (or if that’s too strong, try: Pig dogs and little Englishmen)
    My husband is fond of God…bless America (lots of emphasis on the first word!)
    If you have an antipodean accent, Bloody Hell sounds quaint to American ears.

  128. Sharon Says:

    Screech ‘n scream
    Shoot, durn and rats!