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What in God's name have we done?

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

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  • 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, 2016 at 0:10

2 Answers 2

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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.

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    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, 2011 at 18:42
  • That is an excellent answer. Oct 9, 2015 at 0:47
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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?

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