View Full Version : "Heavens to Betsy!" - who's Betsy?

Don Draper
12-08-2006, 01:48 PM
I just happened to see a Cafe Society thread in which someone used this old chestnut. Then I got to thinking, who the heck is 'Betsy'? I know there are some variations on this phrase - my favorite is 'Heavens to Mergatroid" (or however it's spelled). But ISTM that 'Betsy' is the most common.

So where did this expression come from?

Exapno Mapcase
12-08-2006, 02:05 PM
You, sir, have asked the unanswerable question. Congratulations!

World Wide Words (http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-hea1.htm)
The meaning is simple enough: it’s just a mild exclamation of shock or surprise. It is almost exclusively an American expression, associated in my mind with mature females of the Prohibition era or earlier (though this may just be a reflection of my recent reading). As to where it came from, nobody has the slightest idea. It seems to be one of those traditional sayings that have been around in the language for generations, but which only latterly have come to be recorded in print. The big Oxford English Dictionary has a first citation from 1914, but I’m told it can be found as far back as 1891. Some have tried to trace it to the Revolutionary War and to Betsy Ross, but have failed; others think it may have something to do with the frontiersman’s rifle, often called Old Betsy, but there’s no evidence that saying and name are associated. Charles Earle Funk, who in 1955 used the phrase as part of the title of a book about curious phrases, said that its origins were “completely unsolvable”. We have to leave it as one of the great mysteries of lexicography, along with the similar heavens to Murgatroyd. Unless someone reading this knows different?

Don Draper
12-08-2006, 02:27 PM
Huh. Veddy Inneresteeng!

12-08-2006, 06:10 PM
She's Murgatroyd's sister. Just ask Snagglepuss.

12-08-2006, 07:49 PM
She's Murgatroyd's sister. Just ask Snagglepuss.


You beat me to the punch

exit, stage left

12-08-2006, 08:10 PM
As an aside, over at the American Dialect Society, we've now have an example in print as far back as 1857. Still an Americanism.

12-08-2006, 10:15 PM
I think "Heavens to Murgatroyd" is something that Bugs Bunny said. Did it exist before that?

12-09-2006, 12:57 AM
Dave, the best I can do without making any real effort ;) shows that Daws Butler, the voice of Snagglepuss, stole it, as well as the voice, from Bert Lahr.

http://www.toonopedia.com/snaggle.htm says: The character's best-remembered catch-phrase ("Heavens to Murgatroyd") was also from Lahr, who used it in Meet the People (1944), where he played a supporting role under stars Dick Powell and Lucille Ball. His other catch-phrase ("Exit, stage left") was from a common stage direction, not so specific a source.

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