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In a book I came upon this dialogue:

“Fired his ass the next day,” he said.

“No shit?”

“Hand to God,” Villanueva said.

What does "hand to God" here means, please? Where does it come from?

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    It refers to raising your hand when you swear an oath to tell the truth. – deadrat Jan 4 '16 at 19:13
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It means, "I swear to God." People use it to convince others they're telling the truth or when they say something that they expect the other will not instantly believe, possibly because it's outlandish. Very often, when people use this expression to encourage someone to believe what they're saying, they'll emphasize it with a simultaneous passing gesture in which they put their right hand over their heart and raise their left into the air by their head with the palm facing forward, like one might raise their left hand when being sworn in as a witness to court.

As far as etymology of the expression goes, it isn't clear. What is clear is that it derives from the act of swearing to God, but why it has become more common to say, "Hand to God," instead of saying, "Swear to God," is a bit of a mystery. In the 80's, it was "Swear to God," so the shift has happened over the last few decades. I looked for quotes in possible literary works, but found none that predated the advent of the phrase. Where it appears in artistic works, such as the Broadway play Hand to God and the Arrested Development episode "Hand to God," its usage is clearly derivative of popular expression, not the author.

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