4

What in God's name have we done?

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

  • In that context it's a "minced oath". "In God's name" can of course be used in other contexts where it has a valid liturgical purpose. – Hot Licks Sep 20 '16 at 0:10
11

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.

  • 1
    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
5

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?

and

What in God's name have we done?

are considerably more excited, if not stronger, than

What have we done?

protected by tchrist Sep 20 '16 at 2:49

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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