If “OMG” were a spice, it would be salt. It’s in everything.

From “Oh my god, that dress looks great on you” to “Oh my god, can you believe gas prices?” people seem to throw “OMG” into just about any sentence. It’s a one-size-fits-all exclamation that is as pervasive as “um” or “like.”

And it troubles me. So much so that even writing it out gives me pause. I don’t capitalize the word “god” in these contexts because it doesn’t seem like the Lord is really any part of the subject matter. I was always taught that saying “OMG” in a casual way is taking the Lord’s name in vain—using the Lord’s name without any true, reverent thought of Him was breaking the second commandment. As an adult, after studying the Word and the Heavenly Doctrines, it seems pretty clear to me that the casual use of OMG is problematic and we shouldn’t say it carelessly (my emphasis below):

You are not to take the name of Jehovah your God in vain, for Jehovah will not hold anyone guiltless, who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

Taking the name of Jehovah God in vain means in the natural or literal sense the misuse of the name itself in all sorts of conversation, especially false statements or lies, and in swearing without good cause, or in order to avoid being blamed, in evil intentions, which are curses, and in witchcraft and spells. (True Christianity 297)

In the spiritual sense the name of God means the whole of the church’s teaching taken from the Word, and through which the Lord is invoked and worshipped. Therefore taking the name of God in vain means using anything from this source in idle talk, false statements, lies, curses, witchcraft and spells; for this too is slandering and blaspheming God, and so His name. (True Christianity 298)

I guess what I’m focusing on here is the “idle talk” referred to in True Christianity 298. I’m not talking about deliberately disrespecting the Lord’s name. That’s more obviously wrong. I’m more concerned with the way people throw OMG around in an unintentional and thoughtless manner.

After some Googling on the subject, I found that other Christian groups are troubled by the OMG phenomenon, so this isn’t just a New Church thing. On the other hand, some people seem to think that “OMG” just doesn’t mean what it used to, so we shouldn’t worry about it. Sort of how “literally” used to be mean the opposite of “figuratively” and now they are considered synonyms. Language does crazy things over time. To many people, “OMG” is just another way of saying “Wow!” or “Are you kidding me?” and we shouldn’t give it a second thought.

Well I have given it much more than a second thought. I flinch every time I hear someone utter OMG in a way that seems irreverent. But that’s part of the problem—it seems irreverent. How do I know? Sure, I know plenty of atheists who use OMG regularly and I wonder what it is they think they’re saying. But I don’t think they intend to be irreverent. Maybe they say it just because it’s something that people say. It might be thoughtless and a misuse of the Lord’s name, but I don’t think it is typically an intentional slight to God or to those who believe in Him.

But what about people who believe in and love God? Who am I to say that someone doesn’t enjoy a very chummy kind of relationship with the Lord (as they understand Him) and that they really do think of the Lord whenever they slip OMG into conversation? It’s possible. Maybe I shouldn’t flinch as reflexively as I do.

I guess what troubles me the most is being uncertain of what to do about this phenomenon where the “G” in “OMG” seems essentially meaningless to most speakers. Since I can’t judge another person’s relationship to the Lord, it is hard for me to speak up about my discomfort even when close (non-New Church) friends use OMG in everyday conversation. It feels wrong to stay silent, but it also feels wrong to speak up when I can’t know a person’s mind or heart.

I’m not sure what there is to do besides live by example and not use the Lord’s name in this way. That’s better than nothing, but it does little to ease my concern about how this excessive use of OMG came to be socially acceptable and how this trend might affect people’s ability to connect with the Lord. After all, when we call someone by name, we’re referring to the whole person and not just a label. Saying someone’s name is fundamentally an effort to make contact with that person. And knowing how to connect with God is the greatest gift there is.

Do phrases like OMG trouble you? Why or why not? Have any of you had any breakthroughs in navigating our OMG culture in your relationships with people who may or may not be a part of the New Church? How do you handle the use of OMG in your home or workplace? How do you establish boundaries about this phrase being used in your presence? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

About Justine Buss

Justine Buss and her family are currently based in Pittsburgh. She was born and raised in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania and studied theatre and English at Muhlenberg College. She spent her professional career working with young people in theatre and is now a full time stay at home mom and pastor’s wife. She stays in touch with her theatre roots by directing Christmas and New Church Day pageants, helping with school plays, and taking an improv class. She also enjoys singing, creative writing (including the occasional murder mystery party game), bargain hunting, and going on adventures with her family. She is grateful for the expressive outlet that New Christian Woman provides. It's so good to take the time to reflect on and write about the things that are on our minds and hearts.

17 thoughts on “OMG

  1. Loved this article – I have also been bothered by the propensity with which OMG is used in common language these days. Many argue that it is part of ‘modern’ speech. But I always argue that it is offensive to some, including me, who tries so hard to live life according to Christian values and raise my children in the same way.

    My daughter asked whether it could mean ‘Oh my gosh’. I pointed out that it was a replacement for the original and therefore technically the same thing, since the intention is to say OMG.

    Friends who are non-Christian or non-denominational often use it or use “Jeez” or “Jesus” or similar such phrases, which also trouble me greatly. I have often ignored it but with friends I have asked them not to use such language with me as it does offend my values. They don’t have an issue with my asking.

    I do find that here in South Africa where the majority of the population is religious – Christian, Muslim, Jewish mainly – I hear OMG used less than on American based TV or movies. It seems socially acceptable to use it in daily use instead of finding harmless alternatives like ‘oh my’ or ‘oh dear’ or whatever fits.

    Perhaps it is the apathy towards organised religion and Christianity in general that means that these kinds of phrases sneak into the language and to most seem innocuous. It is sad that we pay less and less attention to the way we speak and write as the years go on and language has become more casual in nature, to the point that it seems like swearing is also more socially acceptable even at younger ages. I struggle with the overuse of swearing in movies, TV, from friends etc. too. Where are we headed….???

    1. It does seem particularly huge in North America, doesn’t it? And I love what you said about how sad it is that we are paying less and less attention to the way we speak and write. It really does make me sad that there is this trend of thoughtlessness in language and expression these days. Thank you so much for your thoughts!

  2. Timely article that I too, wish I had answers for. Thanks for putting it out, there! I distinctly recall asking an atheist co-worker, who she was calling on once, when she uttered “omg” and yet, didn’t believe in a god herself. I genuinely thought it might help her rethink her words, but I am almost certain, that it did not . I think she probably just thought less of me, for my inquiry – that I was appearing ‘holier-than-thou’. I would love to have a gentle response that I could share with others, in the future.

    1. Good for you for saying something! I really struggle with this. A gentle response would be wonderful, but as you experienced, I wonder if even the most compassionate and gentle response would be met with frustration. Maybe that’s okay, even if it’s uncomfortable? I really don’t know. Thank you for responding!

  3. Big topic Justine! I agree that it has become so common as has swearing in general and it bothers me, too. It has just become habit for many and people aren’t giving a thought to their words. I find bad language on tv or movies quite overused and tiresome!!
    But funny story. Just the other day I was driving in very heavy traffic. A huge tow truck suddenly pulled from the middle lane right in front of me and over to the left shoulder. As I slammed on my brakes hoping the truck behind me wouldn’t crash into me, I heard myself say OMG! I was shocked. But I quickly said, “Thank you Lord God for keeping me safe!” And I meant it!

    1. Another common-ish phrase is, “Good god!”
      I will look at the person speaking and say, “Yes, He is.”
      A stunned look will follow, and then a bit of a sheepish face and a half-grin acknowledgment. Most of the folks in these parts are Christian Reformed or Catholic or some other Christian faith.

      As for “omg” . . .
      “Yes, He is.” or
      “Do you think He’d agree?”
      or some other short but to-the-point comment. It took me awhile to come to grips with these comments many years ago, but this is what has actually worked pretty well. It is sometimes hard to know when you can say something and be working on behalf of the Lord, or when silence is golden for Him. Part of the problem is that there are so many who have no belief, or only lip service to one. But for those who do know the Ten Commandments or have attended church a time or two, a gentle reminder that the Lord’s name is special, seems to help.

      Thanks and best wishes!

      1. Marcia, I love the way you framed two possible responses–responding out loud on behalf of the Lord or with golden silence. 🙂 I will carry those two options with me moving forward. Thank you!

    2. I hear you, Gwenda! I say, “Thank God” and occasionally “OMG” in situations where I really mean it–usually out of gratitude and, incidentally, often in traffic-related situations. I think that we can absolutely can and even should say these things in an every day use as long as we are really and truly addressing the Lord with respect. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. This bothers me too.
    Many years ago, when I worked in our local primary school, I was on playground duty one morning and a child near me said ‘Good Lord!’ or ‘Oh God’ or similar. I said to her, ‘What did you want to say to Him?’ She looked baffled, replying ‘What?’ So I explained that she’d just called out to the Lord/God, and what did she want to tell him? I don’t think she really got it, but it felt important to make her, still just a child, think about what she was actually saying.
    I suppose that’s similar to what Marcia has learned to do. Sometimes it might remind people to THINK about what they’re saying – but maybe sometimes, too, ‘silence is golden’ for the Lord. Hard to know.

    1. Yes! I think getting children to stop and think about what they’re saying is key. It’s harder (and possibly unhelpful) to correct adults, but youngsters are still so malleable. It feels important to guide them and help them be more aware at a young age.

      1. My children are an age where they are hearing swear words and asking about them. Like my mother before me, I tell them the original meanings of these words, and thankfully they are so shocked about what they mean that they don’t say them. Same with OMG – I have explained that it is against one of the 10 commandments and that it is important to use His name only when in prayer talking to the Lord or talking about the Lord. We love to sing the 10 commandments song to remind us at times.

        Thanks again for such a thought provoking and relevant article. I don’t have an answer to what to say to people. Often I just share what I feel – it’s hard to call people out because they get defensive. If I come at it from how I feel then it is then their choice as to how to respond to my feelings – not feeling blamed or shamed for offending me.

  5. I have had a strange experience several times where people actually noticed the LACK of me using the Lord’s name. I didn’t know it was noticeable to omit something. To the point that one acquaintance said to a different mutual acquaintance in front of me ‘She doesn’t say OMG’.

    It is most hear-wrenching for me when little children use the Lord’s name in vain…

    So many alternate phrases are still calling on the Lord or aspects of His life, it’s a bit difficult to find something that isn’t. ‘Good Grief, Holy -whatever it is, etc’.

    I agree with other commenters, it’s hard to find phrases that don’t sound holier-than-thou (because we’re not!), but I appreciate the examples listed here.

  6. When I hear people say that I want to respond,”Actually, He isn’t yours!”

  7. It bothers me, too, Justine. Besides never saying it ourselves, with our own kids I always said “If you’re not talking TO or ABOUT the Lord, don’t use His name(s). Now that they are all adults, what I say carries less weight apparently, and I hear it slipping into their conversation. It’s SO ubiquitous in the culture that I have to be forgiving to some extent, but how to take a stand without turning off my young adults as being too “churchy”. Sometimes I just smile and rephrase to them what they said – implying that I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that that’s what they MEANT to say.

  8. Ugggh, I hear ya! (-And all the commentators before me – !) I too find it sad, disheartening, disgusting,…. And the people saying these things are getting younger and younger . When I’m around children and I hear adults swear I find it much easier to ask people to ‘please not swear around kids’ – and they’re usually happy to oblige. It’s muuuuch more difficult to do for my own sensibilities. (Where on earth has chivalry gone?!? I’m pretty darned sure that swearing around women was a huge no-no, at some point?!)

    And here’s an added bonus to consider: how about when your friend who not-infrequently says ‘OMG’ replies that, actually, in her religion (Hinduism in my friend’s case), it’s actually considered a *good* thing to be praising (?) God that way?? :O I didn’t see that coming, and we’re at a bit of an impasse because of it….. because, come on, neither she nor her son is actually *thinking* about God when they say that, and yet it’s a positive thing for them,…. (For better and for worse, our paths have parted somewhat, lately, anyway, so that’s a moot point!)

    -And going back to your “Sort of how “literally” used to mean the opposite of “figuratively” and now they are considered synonyms.” — That drives me so nuts, when people say ‘literally’ when they clearly don’t mean it! And it bothers me that just because something is frequently used, it becomes acceptable; I disagree, I wish that weren’t so. (Just because kids say “Lol” nowadays, I sure hope they don’t add it to the dictionary, as a word (vs acronym)!! -if it isn’t already there….)

    Thanks for this great reflection on this timely topic, Justine! -And to all the other commentators for their thoughts, too.

    1. –I should add that I ask people not to swear around kids when they’re dropping the big words, but I don’t think I’ve had the nerve to address ‘OMG’….

    2. The other thing I hear often that really irritates and offends me (even though it’s not supposed to..) is “No offence but….” and the offending comment is added to the end. As if adding the disclaimer at the beginning makes the criticism, or judgement, or whatever is offensive, somehow less offensive! I’ve heard lots of these recently. “Don’t take this the wrong way but….” etc. How are we supposed to respond to this? Am I supposed to accept what they have said, and if I do take it the wrong way, or am offended, is that now somehow my fault because they did warn me…???? what a confusing and rather messed up world we are now living in. Seems like anything goes… not sure I’m prepared for it sometimes.

      Thanks for such a thought provoking, and very relevant article!

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