Posted by ESC on February 24, 2004
In Reply to: Sam Hill posted by An Illinois Gal on February 24, 2004
: Anyone know the origin of the phrase, "What in the Sam Hill?" As I've heard it used, it's when someone is very confused, slightly angry, & wanting to know what the heck is going on.
From the archives:
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).
In the rural US decades past "Sam Hill" would have been, as someone posted above "...one of many euphemisms for 'hell'..." and was to clean up the language. "Nice" boys and and almost all girls would have been admonished to not even use "Sam Hill".