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Re: " the sam hill "

Posted by ESC on November 02, 2003

In Reply to: " the sam hill " posted by woody on November 02, 2003

: I have heard this expression used a lot by my parents and in American movies,,,, " what the Sam Hill are you doing ? " Where does the " Sam Hill " come from ?
: thanks.

From the archives:

The short answer is, it's a Minced oath, a way of not cussing in front of ladies, and nobody knows who Sam Hill was. The long answer is:

SAM HILL - "If someone could locate any historical record of a Col. Samuel Hill of Guilford, Connecticut, we might find the origin of the phrase 'go like Sam Hill' or 'run like Sam Hill.' Edwin V. Mitchell makes mention of the man in the 'Encyclopedia of American Politics . It seems that Colonel Hill perpetually ran for office - but no other evidence of his existence can be found. Since no one knows 'who in the Sam Hill' he was, Sam Hill must remain 'a personified euphemism our puritan ancestors used for 'hell.'" From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)

A second reference states: "Sam Hill is one of many euphemisms for 'hell' like 'blazes,' 'Halifax,' 'heck,' 'Hoboken' and many more. This one was very popular with frontiersmen, especially when they needed to clean up their language in the presence of ladies. Will James records the comment of a cowboy who felt he had been insulted by an Eastern dude: 'What the Sam Hill do you think we are out here, servants?' The first record appearance in print of 'Sam Hill' was in 1839. Elmer Roessner, an editor friend, reported that turn-of-the-century Seattle newspapers made regular use of this expression. Jim Hill, the legendary 'empire builder,' whose railroads, including the Great Northern, remained his last monument, was a man given to notable rages when anyone dared to oppose one of his grandiose schemes. So frequent were these tirades, according to Roessner, that the papers carried as a standing head: 'Jim Hill is as mad as Sam Hill.'" From "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).