The Grammarphobia Blog

By George!

Q: Who’s George in the expression “By George!”?

A: The phrase is a mild oath or exclamation that dates from the early 1600s. The word “George” here is a substitute for “God,” as are words like “golly,” “ginger,” “gosh,” and so on in other similar euphemistic oaths.

The expression began life as “for George” and “before George,” according to published references in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED’s earliest example is from Ben Jonson’s 1598 play Every Man in His Humor: “I, Well! he knowes what to trust to, for George.”

The next citation in the dictionary is from John Dryden’s 1680 comedy The Kind Keeper: “Before George,’tis so!”

The OED’s first “by George” quotation is from an 1837 speech in the House of Commons: “By George I would, if I had the opportunity, serve him the same!”

Sometimes, according to the dictionary, “George!” is used by itself, minus all the prepositions. Here’s an example from Archibald Clavering Gunter’s 1888 novel Mr. Potter of Texas: “George! isn’t it horribly lonely?”

In case you’d like to read more, we’ve had several items on the blog about such euphemisms, including a posting a few years back about “gol dang it,” “gosh darn it,” “dag nab it,” and others.

And, as we’ve written on the blog, you can add “For Pete’s sake!” to the list.

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