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Jumping Jehoshaphat

Q From Tom Harris: Is there an origin to the phrase: Jumping Jehoshaphat? Is it possible that it has nothing to do with the biblical Jehoshaphat? The pastor at a local church challenged the congregation to find the origin of the phrase. I remembered your Web site.

A Support your local pastor. On consulting the Oxford English Dictionary and the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, it seems clear that the name of the king of Judah (which also occurs in several other spellings, most commonly Jehosaphat) was used in the United States around the middle of the nineteenth century as a mild oath, a euphemism for Jehovah or Jesus. The phrase Jumping Jehoshaphat is first recorded from Mayne Reid’s Headless Horseman of 1866, but is probably older. It seems to have been in the tradition of exotic imprecations that Americans of that period were so fond of, with the repeated initial sound greatly helping its acceptance.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 5 Aug. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-jum2.htm
Last modified: 5 August 2000.