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Holy $&*#! The Pope And Accidental Cursing

During his weekly address Sunday, Pope Francis triggered a phonetic disaster when he mispronounced “caso” as “cazzo” — inadvertently saying “fuck” to an audience of thousands. But before you get all high and mighty about the pope’s mix-up, I wanted to show just how easy it is to fall into the same crap … sorry, trap.

One type of lapsus linguae (slip of the tongue) is a substitution in which one word is replaced for another because of its phonetic relationship. So, for example, someone might say “bat” when they meant to say “cat.” Using a rhyming dictionary to approximate each curse’s phonetic cousins, I looked at how many times common profanity could inadvertently be uttered. It’s a pretty rough methodology; I’m not sure whether “stitch” and “unstitch” represent two risks, but we’ll count both for now. The results provide some indication of whether you’re more likely to accidentally say “bitch” to your boss or “shit” to your sweetheart.

  • Crap: 123 — Risky terms include “recap,” “trade gap” and the potentially unhygienic “bathing cap.”
  • Fuck: 95 — Steer clear of mentioning your favorite “duck,” or “garbage trucks” and “fire trucks.”
  • Pissed: 59 — Avoid this one at the poetry reading: “As he looked out into the evening mist.”
  • Shit: 166 — A “banana split” suddenly becomes a lot less appetizing.
  • Bitch: 92 — “Sales pitch” and “dirty ditch” could cause real offense.
  • Bloody: A mere 23 rhymes — Brits know how to keep it clean.

Are we missing other expletive-laden land mines? Please share your censored stories in the comments.

Mona Chalabi is data editor at the Guardian US, and a columnist at New York Magazine. She was previously a lead news writer for FiveThirtyEight.