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Monday, February 6, 2012

Betsy! Betsy! Betsy!

When I arrived home Friday, I commented to my friends that I had heard someone use the expression "Heavens to Betsy." I think it is a sweet and endearing euphemism, but I can't recollect anyone using it since ... Hmmm, well, I know I've at least read it in a book!

It was requested that I track down the origins of the quaint little phrase, and I promised that I would try. The Dictionary of Cliches says that although the meaning is clear, "That's astonishing!" or "That's unbelievable!", the etymology is not. The only certainty belongs to those origins which have been ruled out. "Heavens to Betsy!" does not refer to Betsy Ross. No flag sewing here! It also does not refer to Good Queen Bess. (The phrase was born here in America.) The earliest recorded usage occurred in 1892 in a book called Huckleberries from New England Hills.

The Dictionary of American Regional English adds that it is "an expression of joy, surprise, or annoyance." This tome, as suggested by Charles Funk, suggests that the phrase could have derived from what an old frontiersman called his rifle. "Oh, heavens to Betsy! My Betsy always shoots straight!"

To whichever etymology you choose to subscribe, heavens to Betsy, don't name your rifle Hortensia. (Can you imagine? Heavens to Hortensia!)

Cassidy, Frederic G., ed. Dictionary of American Regional English. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991. Print.
Rogers, James. The Dictionary of Cliches. New York, NY: Facts on File Publications, 1985. Print.


  1. Ha! My mom used to say this all the time. I wonder if it's a New England thing?

  2. My mom used to say "Heavens to Betsy" all the time. I wonder if it's a New England thing?


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