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I found the phrase “Honest to gosh” in the New York Times (April 5) article titled “Send in the Clowns, and Cheese,” in which the author, Gail Collins blames the squander that the GSA (General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service) wasted more than $820,000 for holding a 4-day gathering to open lines of communication and improve teamwork by serving $4-apiece shrimp and an “American Artisanal Cheese Display” and employing a professional mind-reader and clown as entertainers at the M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas in 2010.

The article ends up with the following sentence:

“They should have been able to find a spot, what with being the people whose job is managing government buildings. Honest to gosh, you’d think they just wanted to hang out at a resort casino spa.”

I understand “Honest to gosh” be an equivalent to “honest to God,” and simply means “honestly speaking,” but I don’t find this phrase in most of English dictionaries.

Is “Honest to gosh” more popular idiom than “honest to God”? Why is there the need to use “gosh” deliberately, instead of “God”?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I agree with what @JoelBrown said in his comment above: "the author is deliberately affecting an overly mild tone when the situation is one which would reasonably inspire significant frustration or anger over wasteful government spending."

My two cents? The author could have used honest to goodness to achieve the same thing. For what it's worth, here's an Ngram:

enter image description here

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The author is conveying a sarcastic sense of naivete. As if to say "So does this mean that government employees are not all honest, upstanding folks who would never waste public money on frivolous pleasures? Why, I never imagined!"

Someone who had such naive ideas would probably also be exceedingly averse to blasphemous language, and the author is pretending to be such a person.

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Only if you are writing a PG Wodehouse parody or are a small child in the 1950s

It's an old fashioned phrase - and probably even then only used in children's books if you didn't want to use God. There are a few old English phrases/swear words where 'God' is changed slightly so as not to be blasphemous.

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Do you have any idea about why the New York Times' column writer used PG Wodehouse jargon or a small child’s language to speak to adult readers? –  Yoichi Oishi Apr 6 '12 at 2:02
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@YoichiOishi - It is likely that the writer is either religious or is used to very polite company and chose to use the euphemistic phrase to avoid what is often considered a blasphemy, at least by those who are concerned about blasphemy. In common usage and in secular society, blasphemy is hardly even considered impolite anymore. Thus mgb is quite right to say that "honest to gosh" is quaint and outdated. –  Joel Brown Apr 6 '12 at 2:14
    
@YoichiOishi - I just read it and the usage in the article doesn't really even fit the phrase. The NYT is notorious for cliches, I suspect an over zealous editor was trying to make it inoffensive, but simply "Honestly ... like to visit casinos" would be a better fit –  mgb Apr 6 '12 at 2:15
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@YoichiOishi - Having re-read the quotation carefully, it is also possible that the author is deliberately affecting an overly mild tone when the situation is one which would reasonably inspire significant frustration or anger over wasteful government spending. This affectation would be ironic and could therefore be seen as an attempt to emphasize the inappropriateness of the behaviour being reported. –  Joel Brown Apr 6 '12 at 2:18

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