I was asked by a child in my catechism class if it’s okay to say, “Holy smokes!” and “Holy cow!” I wasn’t sure exactly how to answer, so I told her I would get back to her. Can you please give me some food for thought on this question?
It has long been customary in Christian culture to invoke the holy as an exclamation of surprise or awe. For example, the French often use “Sacre bleu!” which means “Sacred blue!” and is an invocation of the Blessed Mother, who is usually depicted in art wearing blue. In older English-speaking societies, people would say “By the saints!” or “God’s bones!” Even today, English speakers will say “By God!” or “Oh my God!” “Holy smokes!” and “Holy cow!” are more modern forms of such exclamations.
While not intrinsically sacrilegious or blasphemous – particularly when used without deliberate intent – such expressions ordinarily should be avoided, especially by children. You might tell the child who asked you the question that such expressions are not “bad” but they demonstrate thoughtlessness and that we should try hard to make sure that we think before we speak and choose our words more carefully.