The Cosmetic Ultralounge

Just who was Great Scott?

Usually, “Great Scott!” is used as an exclamation of surprise, amazement or dismay.

There are several possibilities of where the term may have actually come from.

Studio Brow would like to tell you some amazing facts about those possibilities.

One likely source is American Civil War commander in chief of the United States Army, General Winfield Scott.

The general, who was called “Old Fuss and Feathers” by his troops, weighed 300 pounds (21 stone or 136 kg) in his older years and was too large to ride a horse.

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.

Initially, the earliest known example of it being said as a phrase, in the big Oxford English Dictionary, was from F. Anstey’s Tinted Venus of 1885: “Great Scott! I must be bad!”

However, with the digitizing of electronic texts and recent publication of the diary of an American Civil War veteran has moved the saying back in stages to the time of that conflict.

The May 3, 1864 diary entry by Private Robert Knox Sneden (later published as Eye of the Storm: a Civil War Odyssey) stated:
‘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’.

There was an issue of The Galaxy in 1871, 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.

It is used frequently and memorably by Doctor Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future film trilogy. The phrase is occasionally used in reference to this by Hiro Nakamura on the sci-fi television series, Heroes, sometimes in exaggerated Japanese (“Gureito Sukotto!”).

Some think it came from German immigrants who said, “Gruss Gott!”

The late John Ciardi also once believed this, though he retracted that in a radio broadcast in 1985. German immigrants to the US, from Bavaria or Austria, brought with them their usual greeting, although it is not easy to assume how it could have been converted to “Great Scott,” since the German greeting is usually half swallowed and does not sound similar to it.

-Studio Brow thanks you for reading!-

7 responses

  1. bigbadwolf31

    Hi, thanks for visiting my page!
    I love this post; I’m always fascinated by where sayings originally come from!! brilliant!

    December 8, 2011 at 5:26 PM

  2. LOVE this post! Always love learning about the origins of idioms like this. I host international students in my home on a regular basis, they attend a local community college to learn English, and idioms are some of the hardest things for them to understand.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by my blog today, for liking one of my posts, and for choosing to follow me.

    I look forward to following you as well!

    Cheers!

    December 8, 2011 at 5:32 PM

  3. Hello..Thank you for the ‘like’. This post is great..good subject material and interesting..thanks..Peace Tony

    December 9, 2011 at 9:15 PM

  4. Cowboy

    Howdy –

    Great story ! I enjoyed learning something new today ……

    December 9, 2011 at 11:00 PM

  5. Pingback: Lovely Links | Absurdly Nerdly

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