Gosh, golly, and gee casually express surprise or excitement, right? Well, yes, but when they were first introduced to the English language, these short words had a much more serious origin and purpose.
Where did golly, gosh, and gee come from?
While this folksy trio are informal interjections, they are also euphemistic alterations of the word God or, in the case of gee, Jesus. The use of gosh predates golly by about 100 years, but they’re both words people used to avoid using the Lord’s name in vain.
So, what’s a euphemistic alteration?
Euphemisms substitute a mild or vague expression for one that is considered to be offensive or harsh. They often come into play with words concerned with religion, sex, death, and excreta (that’s a fancy word for poop and pee).
For example, if you wanted to employ a euphemism to say that someone died, you might say that “he passed away or departed.” Or if you wanted to avoid that naughty F-word, you might say “screw the pooch or shut the front door.”
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Why replace religious words?
Speaking the Lord’s name in vain is one of the Ten Commandments, which is likely why people turned to gosh, golly, and gee to avoid breaking the rules. But even before the days of Christianity, euphemisms were a way out of linguistic trouble.
The derivation of euphemism is the Greek root eu-, which means “good,” and pheme, which means “speaking.” During religious ceremonies, ancient Greeks superstitiously avoided euphemes. These were words or phrases that were considered sacred, such as the name of a deity like Persephone.
Ancient Greeks weren’t the only people to consider certain words ineffable. Religious Jews use the tetragrammaton or, tetragram, as a sort of euphemistic Hebrew name for God that was supposedly revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. It consists of the four consonants Y H V H or Y H W H. It’s modern transliteration is Jehovah or Yahweh.