The Grammarphobia Blog

By cracky!

Q: Thanks for all the info on “by George!” and those other “g” words that stand in for “God.” It still doesn’t cover “by cracky,” and you can only push God so far. I ought to know!

A: Guess what? The exclamation “By cracky!” is also a euphemistic oath, a milder version of “By Christ!”

Green’s Dictionary of Slang (Vol. 1) says there are many versions of this expression, spelled “crackey,” “crackie,” “crikey,” “crikes,” “criminy,” and so on (often without the preposition “by”).

The earliest published reference for the usage in Green’s is from the June 15, 1830, issue of the Painesville (Ohio) Telegraph: “Oh! Crackee what luck!”

The first example of “cracky” spelled with a “y” is from a fictional sketch in the Nov. 10, 1849, issue of Spirit of the Times, a now-defunct weekly in New York City: “Cracky! Didn’t he travel!”

And the first citation for the exact phrase you asked about is from Harold Frederic’s 1887 novel Seth’s Brother’s Wife: “By Cracky!” cried Zeke Tallman himself, “don’t it beat natur’!” (We’ve gone to the original to expand on the quotation.

From the examples in Green’s as well as those in the Dictionary of American Regional English, the expression seems to have originated in the US.

DARE, whose most recent citations are from the Northeast in the late 1960s, adds: “Not extremely common. Probably rarely used now.”

Green’s also has an entry for a different sense of “cracky”: eccentric or mentally unstable (that is, cracked). The slang dictionary says this usage originated in Australia.

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