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Great Scott! is an exclamation of surprise, amazement, or dismay. As a distinctive but inoffensive exclamation, it has been widely used as a catchphrase in popular fiction, including the works of Mark Twain, the Rathbone–Bruce Sherlock Holmes films (said by Dr. Watson), Silver Age comics (especially Superman), Mr Wilson in the television series Dennis the Menace, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the Back to the Future films (Dr. Emmett Brown).
|This article possibly contains original research. (July 2012)|
The origin of the expression is uncertain, with several plausible sources.
The phrase was apparently used in The Eclectic Medical Journal, December 1856:
A likely source is as a reference to American Civil War commander‑in‑chief of the U.S. Army, General Winfield Scott. The general, known to his troops as Old Fuss and Feathers, weighed 300 pounds (21 stone or 136 kg) in his later years and was too fat to ride a horse. A May 1861 edition of the New York Times included the sentence:
J. W. DeForest uses the phrase in Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty (1867)
The phrase also appears in the 3 May 1864 diary entry by Private Robert Knox Sneden (later published as Eye of the Storm: a Civil War Odyssey):
In the July 1871 issue of the The Galaxy, in the story "Overland", the expression is again used by author by J. W. DeForest:
The phrase was also used regarding Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) in a poem published on 15 August 1871, on the centenary anniversary of his birth:
Another possible origin is an anglicized corruption of an expression used by the German Albert, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria, transforming "Grüss Gott" ("Greet God") into "Great Scott". The etymologist and author John Ciardi once believed this, but later recanted in a radio broadcast in 1985.
Another possible source comes from Mark Twain's hatred for Sir Walter Scott and his writing, which popularized historical fiction and romanticized war in general. Twain's disdain for Scott is evident in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), in which the main character repeatedly utters "great Scott" as an oath, and in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), where he names a sinking boat the Walter Scott.