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When something bad happens, sometimes you'll hear Oh, dear! or Oh, dear me!

Why is this? Is it a shorter version of another phrase that makes sense in these situations?

5 Answers 5

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Two possibilities I can think of. Firstly, it could be a contraction of:

Oh, Dear god!

to avoid blasphemy. This makes sense as it is an admonishment.

Or the other possibility is that 'Dear' was another name for god, like 'the Almighty' or 'the Lord', possibly as a result of the contraction mentioned above.

It crops up rather a lot in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels (brilliant on many levels, not least their meticulously researched use of early 19th century language), in phrases like:

"The Dear only knows that you've been working awfully hard."

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  • What's especially amusing is that the word "god" itself is likely derived from a verb meaning "to invoke", and would have been used to avoid blasphemy or what have you by avoiding actual invocation. Whether that means the tetragrammaton is a matter of history.
    – Jon Purdy
    Jan 27, 2011 at 16:01
  • Your first suggestion makes a lot of sense to me (more than the others). Dear might easily be used as an adjective to describe God, and the God was then not said to avoid blasphemy.
    – Noldorin
    Jan 27, 2011 at 16:01
  • I agree to the "God" reference. I've always assumed it was a variation from the Italian phrase "O Dio" meaning "Oh God".
    – user14730
    Nov 11, 2011 at 13:09
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Apparently the interjection dates from the 1690s.

Edit: Upon further review, it appears to be a contraction of "Dear Lord!" — an expression of surprise or amazement in the form of a supplication.

Also removed the misleading attribution about unknown origin.

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  • it's actually the origin of dear that is ultimately unknown according to the site. Not the interjection "oh dear"
    – b.roth
    Jan 27, 2011 at 10:45
  • @Bruno: Thanks for pointing that out. Edited in answer.
    – Robusto
    Jan 27, 2011 at 15:51
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The Oxford English Dictionary writes

A derivation from Italian dio, God, as conjectured by some, resting upon modern English pronunciation of dea(r, finds no support in the history of the word.

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  • This is a comment on other answers; it is not an answer to the question.
    – Drew
    Jun 4, 2014 at 14:17
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I know that here in Wales, we say "Duw Duw" (pronounced similar to Dee-oo Dee-oo) to mean 'Goodness me!". This literally translates as "God God" ( similar to Italian Dio, or Irish Dia) which would fit with the hypothesis that 'Dear' was a term originally referring to the Latin form for God, i.e Deus.

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  • Most of these exclamations are either direct appellations to a deity or a spirit, or euphemisms for such. The question is whether that particular phrase falls in line with the rest, or has any specific source. Although hypothesis of phonetic imitation does sound interesting. Now, if only there were sources to corroborate it.
    – theUg
    Jan 23, 2013 at 4:57
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Interestingly, we just moved to Spain, where people frequently say "Dio Mio!" meaning "My God." It very often sounds like "Dear me!" because they drop the final "o" sound. I wonder if it's a corruption of that?

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