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I understand the meaning of the saying "I'll go he", but does anyone know where it comes from?

The researcher here seems to think that there is a couple of words left off.

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A Dictionary of Catch Phrases I'll go he! is a NZ c.p. exclam. of surprise: since c. 1920. From those children's games in which one participant is either blindfolded or otherwise made the 'victim'. Cf: I'll go hopping to hell! –  FumbleFingers Jan 4 '13 at 4:30

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According to ABC.net.au,

It turns out that “go he” is an expression that comes from children’s games. In many games (hide and seek or piggy-in-the-middle, or chasings) there’s one child who is “in” or “it” or “he” (depending on where you grew up) – the one who seeks or chases. When used by adults the expression “I’ll go he” is a statement of confidence – “I’ll go he” is an offer to do something unwelcome or unlikely – an offer that can be made because the speaker is so confident of what they’ve said.¹

I do not put a lot of stock in the comment of the researcher who said there were a couple of words left off, shared with him by Australian reference librarians, but then refused to disclose them. Supposing the researcher is honest, there is still too much distance between him and a reliable reference source. His theory of two missing words – whatever they are – is hearsay at best.

It is equally likely that these librarians consulted a slang dictionary, possibly Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang by Jonathon Green (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005) –

I’ll go he! excl. [1950s+] (N.Z.) an excl. of surprise.
I’ll go hopping to hell! excl. (also I’ll go hopping! I’ll go hopping to hell backwards!) [20C+] an excl. of amazement, approval or admiration.

– or A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day by Eric Partridge, edited by Paul Beale (Routledge, 1986) –

I’ll go he! is a NZ c.p. exclam. of surprise: since c. 1920. From those children’s games in which one participant is either blindfolded or otherwise made the ‘victim’. Cf:
I’ll go hopping to hell!—esp. when prec. by well, an addition that affords a vigorous rhyme. Indicative of astonishment—or of profound admiration—or of both: C20. See well, I’ll go to Hanover!

– and that the librarians (or the researcher) jumped to the conclusion that the two exclamations, adjacent on the page, were necessarily related.

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I'll go he is found in Australia from the 1910s.

I'll go hopping [to hell] is found in Australia from the 1920s.

I don't know for sure, but as both are found in the same country around the same time, it's possible the former is a polite euphemism for the other, it probably being unacceptable to publish the latter in earlier times.

I'll go he

I'll go he dates from at least the 1910s in Australia, so possibly earlier with a New Zealand origin. It's used in the form:

"If something happens that I think is unlikely, then I'll go he".

Searching the Trove archive of Australian newspapers (1803 - 1954) gives this from The Mail (Adelaide, SA) of 21 December 1912 in a letter from a Mr EC Murch:

If each one sells as many as the enterprising secretary, then the coffers of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will get a big lift. To use his words— "I am going down to the Port races on Saturday, and if I don't sell a hundred tickets I'll go he."

From "Gittin'-Up Time: A Bushman's Bleat" in the Sunday Times (Perth, WA) of 22 June 1913:

Said Bill: "I came down here for a spell. I want to rest in the mornings. I struck a joint last night, and they had me up before the sparrows. Look here, Sam, I'm a full Jerry to your little joke, but if your joint is worse than mine, spare me days, I'll go he! Lead me to it."

The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld.) of 26 October 1920:

Mr. Thespian: Look here, Mrs. Chatterbox Thespian, I'll "go he," if you can tell me how Mr. Adler can conscientiously be a Prohibitionist.

Here's also a 1928, 1935, 1938, 1939, 1940 (see below), 1941, 1942, 1954, 1954, 1956 and 1956.

In 1940 (also reported here, here, here and here) an MP made a one and half minute speech in the House of Representatives:

Then with the words — 'If that is not the shortest speech I've. made in' this House, I'll go 'He' ' — He sat down.

I'll go hopping...

I don't know if I'll go he actually derives I’ll go hopping [to hell]! but this phrase and related phrases (to heaven/hades/h----/----) can also be found initially used in a familiar manner Australia from the 1920s:

"If something happens that I think is unlikely, then I'll go hopping [to somewhere]".

Or later exclaimed when surprised by something unlikely:

"Well, I'll go hopping [to somewhere]!"

The Recorder (Port Pirie, SA) 15 August 1925 writes of a football match:

'What do you think of the umpire?', queries No. 1. 'Oh ! he's not bad,' I replied with a show of wisdom. That did it. 'Not bad!' came the response, accompanied by a disgusted snort; 'Not bad! Where's your eyes?' If he isn't favoring the -------- I'll go hopping.' I endeavored a feeble answer. 'You're one eyed,' was the retort I received.

Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld.) of 16 February 1933:

... and he dumped the end of the sapling with all his force into the middle of the fire. 'Well I'll go hopping to China' yelled the other, 'If you haven't squashed my damper.

Williamstown Chronicle (Vic.), 12 May 1934:

THAT recently a weeklly paper in the "big smoke" referred to the League as "the parent body." Well, I'll go hopping to h-------! That's the first time I've ever heard of the child being born before the parent!

Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA) 24 November 1936 (republished here, here, here, here, here and here)

One habit Bruce had cultivated, that of expressing his feelings when under the stress of great emotion without resorting to the practice of using bad language.

"Well, I'll go hopping to heaven in hobblechains," he muttered, more surprised than he had been at the appearance of the "ghost" and its sudden and unexplainable vanish ing.

Advocate (Burnie, Tas.), 5 October 1938:

He says a sports meeting and outdoor display are tame. So he suggests a photography competition. Well, if that's not tame, I'll go hopping!

Others:

  • 1938: 'Well, I'll go hopping to H-----.

  • 1941: Well, I'll go hopping to Hades.

  • 1942: 'Well, most towns have their Bobby Burns statue, but I'll go hopping if I've ever seen one before with three of them!'

  • 1943: WELL, I'LL GO HOPPING TO - SMELLIE'S and get some decent Gates to keep the I BIG THIEVING wows out of the Garden

  • 1943: "I'll go hopping if I'd stand for that punk tune.

  • 1946: 'Well, I'll go hopping to — . Where did she get to ?'

  • 1947: 'Well, I'll go hopping to Hades,' he said as he sat down. 'We've run out of petrol.'

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