Posted by ESC on August 26, 2000
In Reply to: "By George" I haven't got it posted by Bob on August 26, 2000
: : The meaning of "By George" is clear, but who exactly is the George? Does anyone know where the phrase derives?
: I should leave this for ESC, since this is usually her category.... but what the H---. "By George" is a "Minced oath" that substitutes for "By God," for those who would regard the latter as a blasphemy.
So I'm the resident expert on curses? My mother would have been so proud.
I always thought "George" referred to a king of England or maybe U.S. President George Washington. Here's what I've found so far:
BY GEORGE - ".Many of the milder oaths listed below follow the old Hebraic and Middle English tradition of avoiding the use of sacred words, such as God, by substituting words with the same initial letter. Thus for God the oaths substitute George, ginger, Godfrey, golly, gosh, gracious, gravy, grief, etc." From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).
So it's (drum roll) a minced oath. And it's "By George" because George is a G-word. That's the closest I can get to an explanation.
In another book, "Listening to America" (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982), Mr. Flexner has more information on "George." It's off the subject of "By George!" but I'll just throw it in for good measure: "George has been an American slang word for excellent since around 1900, as in 'Everything is George' or as an exclamation, 'George!' The word was made popular again in the 1950s because it was the catch word of comedian Jerry Lester on the popular early 1950s TV show 'Broadway Open House.'"
I'm American but I've never heard these expressions "George!" and "Everything is George." I've heard "everything is Jake" for "everything is OK."