phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Harry H Corbett

Posted by Henry on February 27, 2004

In Reply to: Jesus H Christ posted by Smokey Stover on February 26, 2004

: : Jesus H Christ came up again. This time as a headline in Slate.

: : I remember hearing it in some earlier life but don't recall if I was in public school, university or the military.

: : (Search pulls up some blather about the "H" but nothing on how old the experssion is.) Is is 25 years old or 50 years old or ancient i.e. a century or more?

: "Jesus H. Christ" is at least as old as the 1940s, and I would be surprised to see it used much earlier. The H, I'm virtually sure, stands for nothing, but is a way of adding an extra syllable for phonetic effect. If you wish to express, say, disgust or indignation when things are snafu, you can emphasize your feelings by drawing the expression out. Another expression of the period, Jesus Kee-rist had the same effect. The two were often combined as JE-sus H KEE-RISt, in which all the syllables are long, but the "-sus" is at a lower pitch, and the "-RIST" either had a lower pitch or had a rather sudden descent in pitch. When expression was simply "JE-sus KEE-RIST" the KEE tended to be two or three times longer than any of the other syllables. (Tones, as in Chinese, can make a difference.) The term Jesus H. Christ was popular with civilians as well as with dogfaces, probably because of the incongruity. During this period (the '40s) a friend of mine, Don, still in high school, was sort of a big shot in the Youth Fellowship of his church. At the banquet which concluded one of their bigger events, Don was seated next to the presiding clergyman, who asked Don to say grace. Don said a good grace, but unthinkingly concluded, "In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus H. Christ." Don's face turned several shades of red, but after a suitably embarrassing silence the clergyman said, "Let's eat." SS

One of the actors of the comedy show Steptoe and Son was Harry H Corbett. (In America the show became Sanford & Son.) Equity, the actors' union, already had a Harry Corbett, who performed with a glove puppet called Sooty. The second actor required a different name. I wonder what the H stood for. The Corbett Theatre of Essex University is named after him.