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Old 09 April 2008, 12:27 AM
snopes's Avatar
snopes snopes is offline
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Bear Sam Hill

Comment: Who or what is Sam Hill? My mom is always saying "What in Sam
Hill are you doing?" What is this in reference to?
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Old 09 April 2008, 01:02 AM
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Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
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I was always under the impression that it was a way to say "hell" without saying "hell."

(My papa often swore, "Judas Priest," specifically not to be saying "Jesus Christ.")

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Old 09 April 2008, 02:13 AM
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Tootsie Plunkette Tootsie Plunkette is offline
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Then there's the Sam Hill who built what is now the Maryhill Museum, and 'Concretehenge'.
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Old 09 April 2008, 07:02 AM
BamaRainbow BamaRainbow is offline
Join Date: 09 May 2006
Location: Montgomery, AL
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From the word-detective website:

Dear Word Detective: I was recently talking with a friend of mine when, surprised, he exclaimed, "What in Sam Hell was that?" My initial reaction was to ask whether his mama hadn't told him not to swear like a prospector, but since then this expression has haunted my brain in the wee hours of the morning. Where in Sam Hell did the phrase "Sam Hell" come from? Why Sam, rather than George or Larry or even Betsey? -- Elizabeth, via the internet.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when euphemisms we incorrectly perceive. The phrase your friend was grappling for in his moment of excitement is not "What in Sam Hell," but "What in Sam Hill" or "What in the Sam Hill." In fact, the whole point of the phrase is that it does not involve the word "hell."

The explanation of "Sam Hill" is actually pretty simple -- it's an early 19th century American euphemism for "hell" used as an oath. Perhaps due to our Puritan ancestry, Americans have always been especially creative when it comes to inventing linguistic detours around oaths and blasphemies. "Heck," "drat," "darn," "gosh," "jiminy," "gee-whiz" and "goldarn," for example, all started out as euphemisms for exclamations of surprise or rage no newspaper would print and no proper dinner table conversation would tolerate. To digress a bit, I have always wondered whether Walt Disney knew, when he christened his little cartoon creation "Jiminy Cricket," that the name was a rather transparent euphemism for the blasphemous oath "Jesus Christ."

Because the euphemism "Sam Hill" is also a perfectly good real name, many people assume that the phrase must have originally referred to a real person. A reader wrote me several years ago, wondering if he might have uncovered the "original" Sam Hill in the person of Samuel Hill (1857--1931), a lawyer, financier and railroad magnate known in the Northwest U.S. as "the Father of Good Roads." After doing a little checking, however, I can say with certainty that while Mr. Hill may have been famous for many things, he was not the source of this phrase. In fact, "What in the Sam Hill" was in widespread use by 1839, quite a few years before this particular Sam Hill was born.
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Old 09 April 2008, 12:36 PM
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damian damian is offline
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What about "Heavens to Betsy"?
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Old 10 April 2008, 03:32 PM
jayjaybear jayjaybear is offline
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Originally Posted by damian View Post
What about "Heavens to Betsy"?
For that matter, who the heck was Murgatroyd?
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Old 10 April 2008, 04:29 PM
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1958Fury 1958Fury is offline
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Heh, and I'd always thought it had evolved from "Samhain".
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Old 10 April 2008, 05:50 PM
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RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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Originally Posted by damian View Post
What about "Heavens to Betsy"?
The OED says the origin is unknown, but perhaps from Old Betsy -- slang for your favorite gun.
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Old 11 April 2008, 06:11 PM
Thera Thera is offline
Join Date: 28 March 2003
Location: Atlanta, GA
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I grew up with a Sam Hill. Elementary school through high school.

Murgatroyd is a term often used in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula as a type of vampire. Here's a link to its supposed origin:
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