The Grammarphobia Blog

Euphemysticism

Q: In your Nov. 4, piece, you discussed the etymology of “doggone it.” Do your comments also apply to “gol dang it,” “gosh darn it,” and “dag nab it?” One additional question: Does “gol” need an apostrophe? If so, what has been truncated?

A: Yes, those too are euphemistic variations on “God damn it.”

As for the “gol” variations, no apostrophe is needed. In these slang compounds, “gol” seems to take the place of “God.”

The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang renders two of its dictionary entries as “goldang” and “goldarn,” written as such with no hyphens or apostrophes. But in the published citations it lists, spellings include “gol danged,” “gol-dang,” “Gaul darn,” “Gawl darn,” “Gaul-darn,” “gaul-durned,” “gol-durned,” “goldarn,” “goldarned,” and “goldurned.”

The dictionary also lists “gosh” as a euphemistic oath meaning “God,” and lists “goshawful” as a watered down version of “Godawful.” I might add that “gosh a’mighty” (or “goshamighty”) is a prim way of saying “God almighty.”

As for “dag nab,” it’s a variation of “dad-gum,” a member of another branch of the same family. The slang dictionary says that “dad,” when used as an interjection in combination forms, is “a euphemistic alteration of God … used in various mild oaths.” The first such usage, “by Dad,” was recorded in 1678.

Variations on this theme include (and I won’t attempt to give all the spellings) “dad-bing,” “dad-blame,” “dad-blast,” “dad-bloom,” “dad-burn,” “dad-gum,” daggone,” and “dagnab.”

As a child growing up in Iowa, I often heard irritated grownups say “gol-dang-it” or “what the ding-dong!”

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