Great Scott

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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), the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the Back to the Future films (Dr. Emmett Brown).

Possible origins[edit]

The origin of the expression is uncertain, with several plausible sources.

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.[1] A May 1861 edition of the New York Times included the sentence:

These gathering hosts of loyal freemen, under the command of the great SCOTT.

In an 1871 issue of the Galaxy, the expression itself is quoted:

"Great—Scott!" he gasped in his stupefaction, using the name of the then commander-in-chief for an oath, as officers sometimes did in those days.

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):

‘Great Scott,’ who would have thought that this would be the destiny of the Union Volunteer in 1861–2 while marching down Broadway to the tune of ‘John Brown’s Body’.[1]

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.[citation needed]

Similarly, the expression could be a minced oath, derived from the English phrase "[by the] grace of God".[citation needed]

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, in which the main character repeatedly utters "great Scott" as an oath, and in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where he names a sinking boat the Walter Scott.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "World Wide Words: Great Scott". World Wide Words. Michael Quinion. 21 December 2002. Retrieved 2009-01-28.