The Grammarphobia Blog

For Pete’s sake!

Q: Can you  tell me who Pete is and why do we do things for his sake? As a Pete, I’m curious for my own sake.

A: The phrases “for Pete’s sake” and “for the love of Pete” are mild oaths. They originated as substitutes for something stronger—“for  Christ’s sake,” “for God’s sake,” “for the love of God,” and so on.

The Oxford English Dictionary explains that the name “Pete” in these exclamations is chiefly “a euphemistic replacement for god.

The phrase “for Pete’s sake” was first recorded in 1903, according to  OED citations, followed by “for the love of Pete” in 1906, and “in the name of Pete” in 1942.

The intent, in case you didn’t already know, is to express “exasperation or annoyance,” the dictionary says.

Why “Pete” rather than “Phil” or “Fred” or “Percy”?

We don’t know, though the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins speculates (without offering any evidence) that whoever coined “for Pete’s sake” may have had St. Peter in mind.

These “Pete” expressions belong to a large class of euphemistic phrases that developed as substitutes for more irreverent oaths.

 As we wrote in 2008 in Dec. 6 and Nov. 4 postings, phrases like “doggone it,” “gol dang it,” “gosh darn it,” and “dag nab it” are euphemistic variations on “God damn it.” And “gosh a’mighty” is a variation on “God almighty.”

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