Opinion: What in tarnation?


Commentary by Ward Degler

Ever wonder where all those slang expressions came from? You know, made up words and phrases like “holy mackerel,” “by cracky” and “holy Toledo.” And how about “holy jumping Jehosaphat?”

Turns out most of these, and a host of others, have been around so long that no one really knows their origins. “By cracky” came out of the hill country as an epithet created to avoid using the name of Christ.

Of course, Gosh, heck and darn have similar lineage. “You darn better believe in Gosh, or you might wind up in Heck,” a friend once remarked.

Holy Toledo probably referred to the city of Toledo, Spain, an early church powerhouse depicted in dark and threatening tones by the artist El Greco in the year 1600. I know of no artist that has claimed visual responsibility for the phrase, “holy mackerel.” On the other hand, everyone knows “holy cow” was made popular by St. Louis Cardinals/Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray. “Holy cow, it’s a home run!”

Jehosaphat was one of the kings of Judah in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, biblical scholars have searched in vain for some animated reference to him jumping. Since he was a warrior king, as most were at the time, he might have done some jumping around in battle. No one knows for sure.

We seem to have created a lot of words and phrases that allow us to cuss without offending God. “Jees Louise” comes to mind. “Crimenetly” is one I picked up as a kid along with “crimeny” and “for cripes sake!” My Quaker mother frowned on them all, allowing my sister and me nothing beyond an occasional “shucks!”

Milder words include darn, drat and rats! When I was an art student in Kansas City, I lived at a rooming house fondly known as “the Zoo.” The lady of the house often expressed her dismay with the phrase, “for crying in jerks!”

My mother did have one expression she used quite often, especially when perplexed by family matters. “Ye gods and little fishes!” she would snap in a readily understood cease-and-desist manner.

Where did she get it? We never knew for sure, but Mom loved literature, and one of her favorite authors was Louisa M. Alcott. In the book “Little Men,” Alcott quoted Tommy as saying, “ye gods and little fishes.”

And by cracky, I think I’ve said it all.