In the sentence "Boy, is there a lot to answer for" (from a recent EL&U comment), "boy" is used for expressing a strong reaction, especially admiration or excitement.

How did this meaning/usage come about? It doesn't seem to be some sort of minced oath, and an association with the pejorative term "boy", used to mean "black male", seems a bit far-fetched.

The suggested dupe fails to satisfactorily explain the origin of the term. It's easy to explain how "Gee" is a minced version of "God", but I don't see such a pathway for "boy". And the condescending sense suggested doesn't explain why "Oh, boy" expresses pleasure or excitement.


1 Answer 1


boy as exclamation

Emphatic exclamation: oh, boy attested from 1892.


in OED:

B. int. colloq. (orig. U.S.). Frequently as oh boy! ; also as boy oh boy!

Expressing shock, surprise, excitement, appreciation, etc. Frequently used to give emphasis to a following statement. as early as 1894

As in:

1894 G. Ade Chicago Stories 24 S-s-t! Boy! Same as last time.

Nation (N.Y.) 6 Sept. 1900 These biskits are light as a feather, but, boy, they'd be heavier 'n lead If I thought that my hosses was shiv'rin'.

Boy, oh boy, boy oh boy all saw exclamatory usage as above ~ 1890. A agree no association with the pejorative. The exclamatory seems to have evolved de novo.

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