Here's a remark by the late Charles Babbage:

“I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam.” (1821)

This is quoted in the book "Understanding the Digital World" (2017). Below the remark, the author states that "You can sense his exasperation in the quotation above."

I wonder if the phrase "wish to God" usually implies a sense of exasperation or irritation. Or, can it be interpreted as such because the remark was made in the old time?

If you could help me with this, I'd be grateful.

  • 1
    The "to God" part doesn't change the potential meanings of the "I wish" part, so it certainly can mean exasperation, but it could mean something else. Wist and regret are other emotions that might mean in context.
    – The Nate
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 19:57

1 Answer 1


I've only heard this phrase used with some kind of exasperation, irritation, or some other kind of emotional emphasis. Both the Cambridge and Longman dictionaries refer to the phrase as being used for emphasis.

Generally, it's not actually incorporating any religious aspect to it (that would be "I pray to God...", and it wouldn't work for a past event). The phrase has the same general meaning as

I wish these calculations had been executed by steam.

but adding "to God" has that emphasis and extra emotional punch to it. This is just as relevant now, so it's not a special feature of older English.

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