English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What in God's name have we done?

It seems 'in God's name' = 'on earth'.

share|improve this question
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Without more context, it's probably figurative and used for emphasis. And yes, you could say that both "on earth" and "in God's name" can be used as intensifiers in this sentence, but I think "on earth" implies more incredulity while "in God's name" is more like regret.

on earth: What is the nature of this thing that we have done?

in God's name: Why did we do this (stupid, horrible, some other negative descriptor) thing?

It seems there is a slight difference, but I'm not sure if I've defined it well.

share|improve this answer
Agreed - phrases like this seem to hew toward regret and horror: "What in the name of all that is good, decent, and holy, is in this sandwich?" would mean it doesn't taste good, whereas "on Earth" would imply the presence of an unknown ingredient and, possibly, that it's quite delicious. – The Raven May 16 '11 at 18:42
That is an excellent answer. – chasly from UK Oct 9 '15 at 0:47

That is merely one kind of ejaculation:

a short sudden emotional utterance

It acts as an intensifier for the sentence.

You can see that

What the hell have we done?


What in God's name have we done?

are considerably more excited, if not stronger, than

What have we done?

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.