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This is an expression pretty much used, in Gone with the Wind, by Scarlett O'Hara and her father, from whom she actually borrowed it.

If I am correct, this would be similar in meaning to "By Jove!" What I am also interested in, besides making sure I am correct in my understanding of it, is whether this is a naturally-occurred idiom in English, or it is just another of Margaret Mitchell's lexical inventions. And if it is a natural idiom, could you also tell me a few things about its origin?

  • Have you tried using the Internet to find whether it is a common idiom or not? I mean, if it's only used in the novel then you'll have an answer as to its origin. A quotation where this expression is used would be nice for users who have not read or ever seen the movie. – Mari-Lou A Jun 7 '17 at 11:03
  • I think the ngram tells its own tale. books.google.com/ngrams/… – Spagirl Jun 7 '17 at 11:16
  • I don't recall ever hearing it. – Hot Licks Jun 7 '17 at 11:18
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    (I'll note, however, that if you Google for "God's nightgown" (in quotes) you will find some discussions of the term.) – Hot Licks Jun 7 '17 at 11:20
  • +/-0 (-1 for no research, +1 for asking about an interesting expression) – AmE speaker Aug 6 '17 at 14:43
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The expression "God's nightgown" doesn't appear in text earlier than Gone with the Wind, as far as I can tell (using Google Books). It's possible that it just wasn't written down, though.

The similar expression "God's gown", however, does predate the book. OED lists examples of it in use. One from 1535:

Or ȝe tuik skaith be Gods goun, [etc.]
Ane satyre of the thrie estaits in commendation of vertew and vituperation of vyce

And this quote from 1895:

But if these good folk have filled his belly as well as they have filled mine, he will not grumble. God's gown! but that wine was good!
Temple Bar: A London Magazine for Town and Country Readers

Ultimately, there are quite a few oaths of the form "God's x", including the following listed in OED:

God's arms, God's bones, God's bores, God's bread, by God's corpus, by God's crown, God's dainty, God's death, by God's dignity, by God's doom, by God's eyes, by God's fast, God's fish, God's foot, God's fury, God's gown, God's guts, God's hat, God's lady, God's lid, God's light, God's lord, God's malt, by God's mother, by God's name, for God's pain, God's passion, God's pine, God's pity, God's rood, God's sacrament, God's sacring, God's sides, God's soul, God's will, of God's word, God's wounds, God's diggers, God's dominus, God's lord, God's ludd, by God's me, God's sokinges

(And the above list doesn't even include minced oaths, like gadzooks!)

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There are myriads of variations on swear words and curses, used in order to convey the meaing of the original curse without actually saying it.

Examples are cussing for cursing or (god)darn(ed)! for (~)damn(ed)!

In this case, however, there may be another issue. In some places, during certain times (and still today), calling upon a deity or saint for their assistance would be very common. Now, if this is done in a proper way and for proper reasons, according to the prevailing faith, denomination and clergy of that time and place, nobody sees it as wrong (and it is often called praying).

However, if a deity or saint is called upon in a moment of anger or frustration, this is sometimes seem as breaking the rules - more specifically, on of the 10 judeo-christian commandmends.

In order to mitigate the offensive expletive, you can add whaever you like to change the offending expletive into an innocent sentence or expression.

I have personally observed the shortest Bible verse of the King James Bible being used on occasions where other people might have used more explicit curses: Jesus wept!

The expression from Gone with the wind is an innocent enough expression but it does enable the speaker to vent some emotion in exclaiming the word god. I would go so far as to say that deity or saint + innocent addition is a snowclone.

With a few exceptions (such as the bible verse) I'm not quite sure whether the exact origin of every single variation can be traced. This specific one might well be made up by the author, or it may have been a local favorite in her area.

  • With all due respect, of course, I don't think this is answering my question, whether this is something that the author made up or not, and if not, what the origin of this idiom is. – ΥΣΕΡ26328 Jun 7 '17 at 11:17
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    @User26328 with all due respect, you haven't done a shred of research. Again, a citation where this expression is used would be appreciated and would prevent your question from being put on hold, due to lack of research. This goes without saying, you're free to take or leave my advice. – Mari-Lou A Jun 7 '17 at 11:21
  • @User26328 I added an extra paragraph. I don't believe the expression you are asking about to be an idiom. – oerkelens Jun 7 '17 at 11:24
  • Was the context such that the specific reference to a nightgown was somehow apropos? If so, we may be dealing with a revival of Bob Acres's affected manner of swearing in Sheridan's The Rivals (1775), which he terms the oath referential--as for instance "Odd's triggers and flints!" when the subject is dueling. The basic oath formula of God's (often minced or clipped to Gad's, Odd's, or just 's or Z), followed by noun or noun phrase, is very common in Restoration and eighteenth-century drama. It is a type of swearing obviously more grounded in blasphemy than obscenity. – Brian Donovan Jun 7 '17 at 13:49
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In the context of the Wilkes’ untransmutability, what it could mean is that Gods never sleep, wherefore they don’t (have to) change their nightgowns.

  • This response doesn't make sense to me, given that the expression asked about appears to be an expostulation, like "Gadzooks!" or "Ods Blood!" Also, just as a matter of logic, if Gods never sleep, why should they have nightgowns at all? – Sven Yargs Jul 13 '18 at 20:13

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