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(See also LANGUAGE.)
for crying out loud This U.S. colloquial exclamation expressing impatience, astonishment, or perturbation is a minced equivalent of similar profane ejaculations such as for Christ’s sake, Holy Christ, and Jesus H. Christ.
For crying out loud, why did you do it? (R. West, Black Lamb, 1941)
Geronimo An exclamation of surprise or delight. This Americanism was a battle cry used by World War II paratroopers as they jumped from planes. Military use of the term derived from the American Apache Indian Chief, Geronimo (1829-1909), whose name carried associations of savage killing. After the war, Geronimo became a popular term in nonmilitary contexts, retaining the flavor of surprise and exhilaration.
God save the mark This parenthetic phrase can be used as an exclamation of contempt, impatience, or derision; as a formula spoken to avert an evil omen; or as a phrase serving to soften or lessen the offensiveness of something said. Contrary to popular belief that this expression was originally used by archers, it is now believed to have been originally used by midwives at the birth of a child bearing a “mark.” Shakespeare popularized the phrase and its variant bless the mark in his plays.
He had not been there (bless the mark) a pissing while, but all the chamber smelt him. (Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1591)
In modern use, save the mark is most often heard as an ironic expression of contempt.
The crisis of apathetic melancholy … from which he emerged by the reading of Marmontel’s Memoirs (Heaven save the mark!) and Wordsworth’s poetry. (William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902)
hit the deck An exclamatory warning to fall to the ground; to take cover; (in nautical use) to get out of bed.
The whole House fell on its knees or went prone behind desks, as one Pacific veteran shouted out: “Hit the deck, you damn fools!” (Manchester Guardian Weekly, March 4, 1954)
This citation supports the theory that hit the deck had a nautical wartime origin. This expression, however, is also used in boxing to mean to fall or be knocked down in the ring. Yet another (nonnautical) use of hit the deck refers to going to bed.
I’m going to hit the deck now, and I’m going to turn the lamp out. (J. Hackston, Father Clears Out, 1966)
These different uses have no common origin but share the connotations of speed and impact.
holy mackerel An exclamation expressing surprise or wonder. The only plausible explanation for this curious expression is that it was once felt to be vaguely anti-Catholic, since Catholics were enjoined from eating meat on Fridays and often partook of mackerel instead. Thus, the mackerel acquired a jocularly sacred character. A similar expression, Holy cow, evidently sprang up in reference to the sacred cows of Hinduism.
my eye Stuff and nonsense, bunk, baloney—an emphatic exclamation of disbelief. My eye is a current truncated version of all my eye and Betty Martin. The most popular and most far-fetched story offered to explain the origin of this expression tells of a sailor who overheard a poor Italian beggar cry out, “Ah mihi, beate Martini” which means “Ah, grant me, Blessed Martin.” In relating the story to his friends, the sailor’s faulty recollection of the beggar’s words gave rise to the expression as it stands today: “All my eye and Betty Martin.” Undermining the plausibility of this story is its attribution to “Joe Miller”—meaning that it was probably from a book of jests called Joe Miller’s Jest-Book. (See Joe Miller, ANECDOTE.) Other sources scoff at this explanation and suggest that the phrase derives from a gypsy named “Betty Martin” who gave a black eye to a constable who unjustly accused her of committing a crime. Obviously the exact origin of this expression is unknown although the former explanation is most often cited.
That’s all my eye, the King only can pardon, as the law says. (Oliver Goldsmith, The Good Natured Man, 1767)
my foot An exclamation of contradiction, usually spoken directly after the word or phrase being questioned, as in the following:
Cooperation my foot. You’re trying to trap me into admitting a motive for doing the old girl in. (L. A. G. Strong, Othello’s Occupation, 1945)
The origin of this phrase is unknown. It appeared in print by the turn of the century.
shiver me timbers An interjection, sometimes used as a mock oath. This expression is associated with buccaneers and old salts because of its popularity in comic fiction and children’s stories, where it frequently appears as an epithet used by a pirate or other villain. Timbers here refers to a ship’s structural hull; literally, shiver me timbers means to deliver a severe shock to a ship’s hull so as to imperil its safety, as from having run aground; figuratively, it means to rattle one’s ribs.
I won’t thrash you, Tom. Shiver my timbers if I do. (Frederick Marryat, Jacob Faithful, 1835)