Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why in Sam Hill did I Post this Claptrap?

I just got curious about the etymology of this expression. And, I've been wrong lo these many years. I've been saying "What in Sam Hell..." as in "What in Sam Hell happened to all the chocolate?" or "Who in Sam Hell's been into the Cardhu again?"

Realizing that the "Fiction" part of my "Film, Food and Fiction" blog was a little thin, I decided to go all litchry on you and research the background of this expression.

First, I discovered that I hadn't even been saying or spelling it correctly. It's "Sam HILL" not "Sam HELL", and apparently is a euphamism for "hell". Well.

The online urban dictionary was totally useless, although I came across some other words and definitions that caused me to lay down with a cold compress on my forehead for a while. So I turned to Wikipedia and this is some of the information that came my way:

The usage of "Sam Hill" dates back to at least 1839. Its etymology is uncertain. Some have suggested that the "Sam" in the phrase derives from Samiel, the name of the Devil in Der Freischütz, an opera by von Weber that was first performed in New York in 1825. Hill is most likely just a play on "hell".

It was used in the 19th century America by frontiersmen, especially when they needed to clean up their language in the presence of ladies. It was first used in print in 1839, in a Seattle newspaper. Jim Hill, the legendary "empire builder", whose railroads - including the Great Northern - remained his last monument, was a man given to notable rages when anyone dared to oppose one of his grandiose schemes. So frequent were these tirades that the paper carried as a standing headline: "Jim Hill is as mad as Sam Hill." Other phrases include "go like Sam Hill" or "run like Sam Hill". In reference to Col. Samuel Hill who perpetually ran for office in the late 19th Century.

For those of you not keeled over from boredom, thank you for sticking it out! I salute you!

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