Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Etymology Love

clock on an old gas stove
I enjoyed this post over at Life at Willow Manor and it inspired me to post these two words:


Samuel A. Maverick died 1870 American pioneer who did not brand his calves
1: an unbranded range animal; especially : a motherless calf
: an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party

Sam Hill


Sam Hill is an American English slang phrase, a euphemism for "Hell", or "Damn" (as in, "What in the Sam Hill is that?"). Its etymology is uncertain, however it first appeared in print in America in the Seattle Times Newspaper in reference to James J. Hill (Jim Hill). Jim Hill was the legendary "empire builder", whose railroads included the Great Northern Railway (U.S.). He 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 published usages include "go like Sam Hill" or "run like Sam Hill" - in reference to Colonel Samuel Hill of Guilford, Connecticut who perpetually ran for office in the late 19th Century.[1]Encyclopedia of American Politics, 1946 edition, there is scarce evidence that he existed.[2] However, he was apparently so unsuccessful that except for a brief mention in the

Another explanation links the phrase to Sam Hill, an Abenaki Indian basket maker who lived near Saratoga Springs, NY in the early 19th century, known for the baskets he sold to tourists and for his disheveled appearance.[3]

Others have suggested that the "Sam" in the phrase derives from Samiel, the name of the DevilDer Freischütz, an opera by Carl Maria von Weber that was performed in New York in 1825.[4] in

Ultimately, the expression may simply be derived from a bowdlerization or alliteration of "hell" with "hill" when used in 19th century America by frontiersmen, especially when they needed to clean up their language in the presence of ladies.[5]

The alternate history webcomic Roswell, Texas refers to "Sam Hill" as being a Texican monument (in the story's continuity, the Republic of Texas did not join the United States, but remained a nation unto itself) similar to Mount Rushmore, but bearing the faces of four Texas heroes named 'Sam': Sam Houston, Sam Walker, Sam Colt and Sam Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain.

The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that the origin is unknown.

Old words-Old Things....more photos from the weekend.


  1. I love this! I'm officially adopting the "mad as Sam Hill" as my phrase! LOL

  2. Betsy, I don't remember what made me start using "Crackers" or "Crackers and Soup" (if I am really mad) as my erstwhile curse word but I hear people using it at work now .... which is so much nicer than..$#@%^&#@ isn't it?

  3. I have to tell you that I received an "E" in Etymology at boarding school. That meant "failing -with effort". I just didn't have the time to study all the roots of the words and ended up cheating on a test. I do still find the disection of words fasinating but still do not have time to study them :)

  4. Loved this, Stevie! I use "crackers" to describe someone that is crazy, as in "they went crackers".

    Fabulous lamp in the last pic, BTW. :)

  5. LOL! I have heard that phrase all my life... ("What in the Sam Hill are you doing?" ...how interesting to see where it originated from. What a cool post today. Thanks.


  6. As one who has used the phrase Sam Hill for years now, I really appreciate this historical background on it. I also like your crackers and soup. Have you ever heard the phrase "You're in the soup now!" It means you are in a jam. Hey, another food word to describe being in a pickle. Hey, I did it again!

  7. The first time I heard the phrase "What in the Sam Hill" was in 1977. The pastor of the church I attended used that term often....and he was from Texas!

  8. I have a theory on "Sam Hill". Like you said it is a euphemism for hell.
    There is a Celtic holiday called Samhain that is basically a festival of the dead. It's very much related to Halloween, they fall at the same time of the year and share much of the same imagery (ie. the dead, bonfires...you see where I'm going with this?)
    I have no conclusive proof but I suspect there's some kind of connection between Samhain and the phrase "Sam Hill".

  9. The Samhain connection is an interesting, if incorrect one. In Gaelic, "Samhain" is pronounced "sow-en." Nothing at all like Sam Hill.


I'm glad you stopped by and I look forward to your comments. As Dr. Fraser Crane would say, "Hello, I'm listening."