There are many ways people have found to refer to this era of Covid-19 and all its baggage: widespread testing and temperature checking, social distancing, hand washing and sanitising, and the wearing of masks.
One of the most common is ‘these times’ and variations on that — these strange times, these difficult times, these awful times, and so on. There are myriad adjectives one could choose, although some are more socially acceptable than others.
Recently, I’ve observed that people have started to capitalise the term as These Times in blogs and social media posts.
This interests me, because of the way in which the language is being ever so slightly adjusted to add weight and significance to the term. Those capital letters are acting as an intensifier.
Intensifiers are those parts of language that add strength to what we’re saying or writing. Words like ‘absolutely’, ‘completely’, ‘terribly’, the commonplace ‘very’ and even the humble little ‘so’ are all intensifiers. Some people use expletives to do the same job, especially in spoken English. The meaning of the sentence doesn’t change if they are removed, but the sense of degree or importance in the words around them isn’t necessarily communicated if those intensifiers are not present.
By capitalising those Ts, writers are communicating their assumption that their readers will know exactly what they’re talking about. And, in These Times, there is little doubt that they will.
Having discussed the meaning of “not mincing one’s words” n my previous post, it seemed logical to explore the practice of using minced oaths.
You might never have heard of a minced oath, but most of us use them all the time.
A minced oath is a term we use instead of a swear word. Just as minced words are diplomatic so as to not cause offence, minced oaths are likewise designed to express surprise or to emphasise reactions or feelings without causing offence through swearing or blasphemy.
Therefore, it’s a kind of euphemism: a word we use instead of a less polite or more uncomfortable term. We use them all the time, and there are probably thousands of them in common use in English. For example, we call the toilet “the bathroom”, we call dying “passing away” and the dead our “dearly departed”, and we refer to swearing as “colourful language”.
A minced oath can also work as an intensifier: it can give emphasis and power to a statement, just as effectively as a swearword or any other adjective or adverb. To say “that dratted virus” or “that freaking thing!” enables the speaker to inject more force and emotion into their statement without actually offending anyone.
21st century English is full of minced oaths. Darn. Dang. Dagnabbit. Gosh. Golly. Jiminy. Jeepers Creepers. OMG. Geeze Louise. Heck. Holy Moly. Shut the front door. If we tried to list them all, we’d be here all day.
Some are closer to actual swearing than others — in fact, some come painfully close — but most are used without causing any real offence to most people.
When I was a kid, my parents never allowed me to say anything that approximated ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ because they believed it was just as bad as using those names as blasphemy. My friends and I used to joke that “heck is where you go if you don’t believe in gosh or jeez’, but we still wouldn’t use those terms around our parents. In contrast, kids now are shocked to discover that those are the origins of their common expressions.
It’s all part of the way in which language evolves and adapts to suit different purposes and situations.