Watching television and listening to podcasts in English has made me aware of something about interjections: a lot of them are references to God or Christianity. Many people casually use interjections such as “oh my God”, or “Jesus”, without thinking too much about it. But is this religious aspect important to those who use them? It doesn’t look that way.
The fact that a person uses terms like “God” or “Jesus” in their daily life could mean that they are more or less Christian, it could also simply mean that they were raised in a Christian environment, or even that the use of those interjections has become part of the English language. It is quite interesting to think hat, about only a few decades ago, such expressions were considered profane language. People supposedly swore so that their words would have impact, but that same impact has lost its force nowadays due to the widespread use of profanity in our modern society.
In the “No Fear Shakespeare” section of SparkNotes1, you can compare original Shakespeare texts with translations into ‘modern English’. There, you will find the interjection “oh my God” being used as a translation for Gertrude’s “oh, me” in act 3, scene 4. An example that shows how such interjections have become more common in English throughout the years. Of course, some religious people still criticize the use of such interjections nowadays, but they do not seem to be as numerous as the people who use them. However, you can still hear more neutral versions of those religious interjections, such as “geez » (for Jesus) or “oh my gosh” (for “oh my God”), which shows that some people are still conscious of the religious aspect of these exclamations. There is also the other end of that spectrum, mostly on the internet, where people are trying to come up with more elaborated versions, often as jokes; my personal favorite being “jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick”, which shows some creativity, as opposed to others that just sound disgusting or rude even to non-Christians.
« jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick »
The spread of the acronym “OMG”— oh my God — on the internet also led to other cultures using it. In France, for example, you might even find a text fully written in French with that acronym being used as an interjection2. This Anglicism may seem weird considering that French interjections related to God and religion have more or less disappeared from young people’s language, such as “bon Dieu” or « Jésus, Marie, Joseph”.
Thus, it appears that most people using these interjections, whether they be native English speakers or not, do not use them to call upon God’s name or because they are part of the Christian community, but rather because such divine interjections have become part of modern English and modern usage in general with “oh my God” being used in countries that are not part of the English-speaking world like France.
-Crowther, John, ed. “No Fear Hamlet.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
-Floyd. « Top 25 Des Interjections Qui Ont Mal Vieilli, Nom D’une Pipe En Bois ! » La vie, du côté top. Topito. 30 May 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
-Sandra. “Oh my God!!!” Sandra, dans tous ses états. sandraelle.com. 8 Dec. 2009. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
SwankSpike. “Jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick” Urban dictionary is written by you. Urban dictionary. 01 Mar. 2006. Web. 19 Feb. 2016
Picture by Charlotte Khemiri.