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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

"Well, heavens to Betsy." Who was Betsy? What interesting sayings do you wonder about?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (30908points) May 16th, 2011

“One step at a time.” Really? That’ll get me nowhere fast.

What common sayings have you wondered about?

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36 Answers

marinelife's avatar

“The first published reference, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is in a short-story collection by Rose Terry Cooke, Huckleberries Gathered From New England Hills (1892): “’Heavens to Betsey!’ gasped Josiah.” (“Betsy,” as you can see, is spelled here with a second “e.”)

Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Dictionary of Quotations, has tracked the expression even farther, to an 1878 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine: “Heavens-to-Betsy! You don’t think I ever see a copper o’ her cash, do ye?”

Some people have suggested that the exclamation was inspired by the Minna Irving poem “Betsy’s Battle Flag” (about Betsy Ross) or the nickname of Davy Crockett’s rifle, Old Betsy, but language authorities have debunked these ideas.

In a posting to the American Dialect Society’s mailing list, the etymologist Gerald Cohen has suggested that Betsy Ross may indeed have inspired the expression even if the Irving poem didn’t. He adds that “heavens to Betsy” may be an elliptical way of saying “may the heavens be gracious to Betsy.”

But where, you ask, did the expression originate? Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says the origin is unknown. I, too, fear that this is one of the many language mysteries that we simply have to live with.

The lexicographer Charles Earle Funk, in his appropriately titled book Heavens to Betsy!, says he spent “an inordinate amount of time” on this problem before deciding that it’s “completely unsolvable.””


I have wondered about something my mom and others from the South say: That was a pure N Tee hole!”

dxs's avatar

What’s the origin of holy cow? Holy mackerel?

ucme's avatar

Bugger me sideways!?! Sounds very energetic, but as an expression of alarm? Me no understandy! ;¬}

Kardamom's avatar

Land o’ goshen!

Blueroses's avatar

Strike me pink!

dxs's avatar

@FutureMemory oh. thanks it was sorta like a rhetorical question but whatever…tone doesn’t flow well on the internet I suppose…

Seelix's avatar

For Pete’s sake! Who’s Pete, and why are we so worried about him?

Brian1946's avatar

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! I just glanced at some search results, and apparently Jehoshaphat was some biblical dude, but why the “jumpin’” part? Did he play basketball or skydive?

I’ll be a blue-nose gopher! The Disney character who said this was usually surprised when he did. Are blue-nose gophers more easily surprised than brown-nosed gofors? ;-)

Aster's avatar

Oh, my lands! What lands?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Top shelf where mama hides the cookies. If she tells you they’re not really hidden.

rebbel's avatar

The proof is in the pudding.
What is inside the pudding?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Drop dead gorgeous.
Like that really helps the dead person.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Slap my ass and call me Sally.

gailcalled's avatar

Holy Toledo.
Blow me down.
Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
Land’s sake.
That’s ginger peachy.
It’s not worth a hill of beans.

ucme's avatar

“Somebody put the kettle on
i’m spitting feathers here!”
Okay, so you’re thirsty because you ate a goose?

“Well, i’ll go to the foot of our stairs.”
An expression of shock, but must you locate yourself there to illustrate your point?

Seelix's avatar

@ucme“Somebody put the kettle on
i’m spitting feathers here!”
Okay, so you’re thirsty because you ate a goose?

Hey, if @Coloma wants some tea, who’s going to deny her?

ucme's avatar

@Seelix Ahh, but an unplucked one?

Those are both regional sayings from my neck of the woods in England by the way. Just thought i’d say that for no good reason.

Blueroses's avatar

Happy as a clam. Ok, but I think I can out-happy a mollusk

You’re talking through your hat.

MonstrousPeace's avatar

“A doubting Thomas” Who was this Thomas, and what happened to make him doubt?

cockswain's avatar

Bust my britches.

Seelix's avatar

@MonstrousPeaceThomas was the apostle who doubted Jesus’ resurrection, and had to touch the wound in his side to believe that he was truly Jesus.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Spanking the monkey.

ucme's avatar

“Ooh, i’m so angry I could shit mars bars!”
Hello Willy Wonka! ;¬}

MonstrousPeace's avatar

@Seelix Oh, I see. That’s what I get for not being religious. :P

Kardamom's avatar

@Seelix Ooops, I almost got Doubting Thomas mixed up with Peeping Tom, the dude from the story about Lady Godiva.

ucme's avatar

Driving me round the bend. What bend? Is there salvation to be found around this bend?
Driving me nuts. What, I have a steering wheel on my cock?
Shut your face! What all of it? Eyes, mouth, nose, cheeks…what!?!

Sunny2's avatar

“Well, I swan!” I heard this from my grandma’s friends in Indiana when I was a child. It obviously meant they were surprised by what they had just heard, but I never knew where it came from.

Blueroses's avatar

@Sunny2 I thought that was a dialect version of “Well I’ll be sworn” which, come to think of it, doesn’t make much more sense.

fundevogel's avatar

Damn your eyes!
the world is your oyster

ucme's avatar

Chill your beef!?! What, put the hose on the cow? Charming innit!

aprilsimnel's avatar

Answer me this, somebody:

Who the hell is Murgatroyd?

Raven_Rising's avatar

@Seelix I heard somewhere the term “For Pete’s Sake” refers to St. Peter.

Oh my stars and garters! Any thoughts on this one?

Seelix's avatar

@Raven_Rising – That makes sense, I guess.
@aprilsimnel – We might have to ask Snagglepuss about that one!

Blueroses's avatar

@Raven_Rising I love the stars and garters idiom but I never thought about where it came from. It turns out to be nothing even close to what I thought and much older than I believed. It seems to refer to the decorations worn by British notables

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