Words and Their Stories: Great Scott
The expressions range from mild to strong,from exclamations and oaths, to curses and swear words. The ones that areaccepted in public speech change through the years as social rules change.
At times, only very mild expressions aresocially accepted.
Some of the most popular expressions arethose that are guaranteed not to offend anyone. Most of these exclamations havesurvived from earlier days. And their original meanings are long sinceforgotten.
Great Scott! is a good example. Itexpresses surprise or shock. You might say to someone, "Great Scott! I didnot know she was married!"
Language expert Webb Garrison tells an interestingstory about the expression.
Just before the Civil War, the Whigpolitical party was making a last effort to remain a part of American politicallife. For the election of eighteen fifty-two, the Whigs wanted to offer acolorful candidate for president.
They thought that Winfield Scott would bethe right candidate.
In his thirty years as a general, WinfieldScott had become one of the best-known military leaders in the country. Duringthe war with Mexico, he had captured Vera Cruz and occupied Mexico City.
So, party leaders thought that if any Whigcould be elected president, it was Winfield Scott.
General Scott quickly accepted thenomination and began campaigning. It did not take long for the public torealize that General Scott really liked General Scott!
His speeches were full of praise forhimself. It was evident that he thought he was the greatest candidate who hadever lived. Soon his political opponents began to make fun of him. They calledhim, Great Scott.
General Scott did not come close to winningthe presidency. But his name still lives as part of the English language.
Other popular exclamations combine holywith other words.
Holy Mackerel! is one that expressessurprise or wonder. It comes from earlier days when the Roman Catholic Churchruled that Catholics must not eat meat on Fridays. Since mackerel was a commonand cheap fish in the United States, it was often eaten for dinner on Friday.
Then there is Holy Toledo! It is anotherexpression of surprise. It refers to the city of Toledo, Spain, an importantreligious center in medieval times. Toledo was a holy city for both the RomanCatholics and the Muslim Moors of Spain.