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Jiminy, by jiminy, jumpin' jiminy etc

—used as a mild oath often in the phrases by jiminy, jiminy crickets, jiminy Christmas

-Merriam Webster

In a more innocent age, and long before the ubiquitous present-day usage of "fuck" as an expletive, there used to be some rather quaint expressions to express surprise, or shock. Among these are "Jiminy, or "by jiminy", or even "jumpin' jiminy".

Some people claim it comes from the name of the Disney character Jiminy Cricket, but I can find references going back far beyond that, so I am guessing that the character was named after the exclamation (i.e. “Jumpin’ Jiminy”), rather than the reverse.

Beyond that, all is a blank; the schoolboy may indeed be closer involved than he knows with the history of the Twins; his ejaculations may sometimes take the form "by jiminy" without his recognizing that an appeal is being made, in a forcible manner, to the Twins as the guardians of public faith and the avengers of acts of perjury; but even if he had recognized the connexion between his own slang and the ancient piety…

-The Cult of the Heavenly Twins (J. R. Harris, 1917)

There is some speculation that it derives from a Scandinavian expression, like “oofta”. There is also speculation that "Jiminy Crickets!", "Jiminy Christmas", etc is a way of disguising "Jesus Christ!" as an expletive.

What is the origin of this expression? Is this an Americanism, or is it an exclamation coming from a Scandinavian (possibly Swedish) expression?

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    The Scandinavian connection you mention is actually also a reference to Jesus Christ. I’m not sure if it exists in Swedish or Norwegian, but in Danish, a strikingly similar minced oath is Herre Jemini, where Herre means ‘Lord’ and Jemini is – even today – quite transparently a mincing of Jesus. I was not aware of its origins from Jesu domine specifically (I always just thought of the -mini as being a vaguely Latin-sounding nonce suffixation), but it makes sense, apart from the fact that Herre Jemini ends up meaning ‘Lord Jesus Lord’. Sep 26, 2019 at 23:49
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    The author of the passage quoted apparently believed it to come from Gemini (the Heavenly Twins)! Sep 27, 2019 at 8:51
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    To fill in on @JanusBahsJacquet Scandinavian info: Swede here, never heard of Jemini, although we have "herre min je" ("Lord my je"), where "je" isn't a real word but seems likely likely to be an abbreviation of "Jesus" (not many other are prefixed with herre/Lord).
    – gustafc
    Sep 27, 2019 at 9:46
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    German isn't scandinavian, but has the expression "Oh jemine". All google results which I found for that phrase claim it originates from shortening Latin "Oh Jesus Domine" (Oh Lord Jesus). Sep 28, 2019 at 20:11
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    Like most idioms beginning with J, it's a euphemism for Jesus. Sep 18, 2023 at 16:49

5 Answers 5

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From Hugh Rawson, A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk (1981):

Jiminy Cricket. The cute Walt Disney character notwithstanding, this is a euphemism for "Jesus Christ," on a par with Judas Christopher, Judas Priest, cripes, and jingo. The "Jiminy" comes from "Gemini," which goes back to at least 1664, and which may derive from the Latin Jesu domine. "Jiminy" is sometimes used alone, as in "By Jiminy" or—perhaps a transitional form—"'Oh, geeminy, it's him,' exclaimed both boys in a breath" (Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876). "Jiminy" also may be finished off in other ways besides the cute "Cricket," e.g., Jiminy Christmas, Jiminy crackers, Jiminy criminy, Jiminy cripes, and Jiminy whiz.

John Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms (1848) has this entry for the word, which does not indicate any connection between Gemini and Jesu domine:

JIMINY. By Jiminy! An exclamation. Originally, gemini, or the Castor and Pollux of ancient mythology; names by which the old Romans used to swear.

A search of Early English Books Online returns one early (but quite ambiguous) potentially relevant match for "by Gemini," from Holinshed's Chronicles (1587):

More welcome than Terpsicore was to the towne of Troie. / Sea-faring men by Gemini conceiue not halfe my ioie. / Strong Hercules to Theseus was neuer such delight, / Nor Nisus to Eurialus as I haue in this sight. / Penelope did neuer thirst Ulysses more to see, / Than I poore Norwich hungred haue to gaine the sight of thee.

It seems more likely that the sea-faring men are feeling joy as they use the constellation Gemini to steer by than that they are feeling joy by a euphemism along the lines of "jumping Jehosephat." I haven't yet found the 1664 source that Rawson alludes to.

The earliest use of jiminy as an expostulation that I've found in various searches is from Woman's Will: A Comedy, in The New British Theatre: A Selection of Original Dramas Not Yet Acted, volume 4 (1815):

Old H[arcourt]. I cannot think of it.—For as he is unquestionably my lawful heir——

Lucy. Lawful heir! jiminy, jiminy, how you provoke me! Shall a trifle like this be set in opposition to the force of love? Omnia vincit amor, as the poet says ; and which in English means—that is, as Mr. William, (he was bred at Oxford) informs me—“Love subdues pretty girls,” and this, indeed, he kindly taught me long ago.

On the other hand, the euphemistic use of Jiminy for Jesus seems quite strong in Henry Paul, Dashes of American Humour (1852):

"Jiminy Cranks! Yew ain't agoin to ride in that thing, are yeow? It looks like a patent coffin!" said our Yankee friend, gazing with an air of curious interest at the cab, and crossing to examine the position of the perch. "What a pesky quare go for the driver to set behind! There's where these things and cabs arn't alike."


Update (September 27, 2019): Early occurrences of variant spellings of 'Jiminy'

Prompted by the suggestions in Green's Dictionary of Slang (cited in user067531's very useful answer), I searched for some variant spellings of jiminy and found these early instances:

From William Wycherley, The Country-wife: a Comedy Acted at the Theatre Royal (1675):

Hor[ner]. I thought so, for he is very like her I saw you at the Play with, whom I told you, I was in love with.

Mrs. Pin[chwife]. O Jeminy! is this he that was in love with me, I am glad on't I vow, for he's a curious fine Gentleman, and I love him already too.

From Aphra Behn, Sir Patient Fancy: A Comedy: As It Is Acted at the Duke's Theatre (1678):

Sir Pat[ient]. Hah, so young a Bawd! —tell me Minion, —private meeting! tell me truth I charge ye, when? where? how? and how often? oh she's debauch't! —her reputation's ruin'd, and she'le need a double Portion. Come tell me truth, for this little Finger here has told me all.

Fan[y]. Oh Geminy Sir, then that little Finger's the hougesest great Lyer as ever was.

From a 1684 translation of The Idylliums of Theocritus with Rapin's Discourse of Pastorals:

Here Betty take the Boy, and stay at home, / Call Pretty in, and wait here till I come. / O Jemminy, dear Gorgo, here's a throng, / I wonder how we two shall get along: ...

From (as noted in Green's Dictionary of Slang), Thomas D'Urfey, The Comical History of Don Quixote as it is acted at the Queens Theatre in Dorset-Garden (1694–1696):

Teresa takes the Letter.

Teres[a]. Ah Gimminy, I could eat the Letter up methinks: —well dear Sancho, or dear Governor, here I am come to thee at last; good Lord Mary! I can but think upon his former words, which odsdiggers I could n'er have believe then, tho now I find 'em true ...

And from Edward Ravenscroft, The Canterbury guests, or, A bargain broken a comedy : acted at the Theatre-Royal (1695):

[Mr. Justice] Greed[y]. But what do I prating here, when Dinners going up.

Dash. Gemminy Sir, how you are garnish'd out, as if you were to be serv'd up for a standing Dish — more for ornament, than use —let me help you off with your Cloak. Some body has pin'd a dish clout to your back.

From these early matches, it seems possible that the variants jeminy, geminy, jemminy, gimminy, and gemminy all may antedate the earliest print occurrence of the current standard form jiminy. It is also striking that the expression appears so frequently in plays of the period 1675–1695, often in lines spoken by servants or other people of common background. Evidently, the playwrights were familiar with the spoken expression but differed on how to spell it.


Update (September 17, 2023): One very early instance of 'by Jemini'

A further search of Early English Books Online turns up this instance from "The Virtue of a Hot-House," in C.F., Wit at a Venture, or, Clio's Privy-Garden containing songs and poems on several occasions never before in print (1674):

But in the int'rim I must tell ye / How a strange Ghost appear'd to Nelly, / That would have disoblig'd her belly, / She poor heart void of all suspition, / Ne're thought of carnal Inquisition, / But watch'd with Care, when in a trice / She saw a strippling-spirit rise; / And what d'e think 'twas, but the dead, / That rose for Ellens Maiden-head; / And him that you thought had been no boy, / Was all this while a tuning's Ho-boy, / Who streight without intreats or woing, / Would with the Dam'sel fain been doing; / But she being cautious of her honour, / To let a dead man come upon her, / Did terrifie her more than living, / Though she knew dead men had no giving; / Approaching still he comes to stem her, / And in pursuit begins to wem her, / And swore by Jemini he'd thank her, / If that she would but let him clank her; / The Dam'sel not enduring further / With open mouth she cryes out murther; / ...

So we there is at least one recorded instance of swearing "by Jemini" from as early as 1674.

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    Your last para is extremely intriguing. Sep 28, 2019 at 21:59
  • Impressive! How long did all this research take you?
    – smci
    Sep 29, 2019 at 19:46
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    @smci: All told, probably four to six hours. The bulk of that time goes not to composing the answer or reproducing the relevant quotations, but to winnowing out false-positive or otherwise irrelevant matches to my search terms in search results.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 29, 2019 at 20:17
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It comes from saying "Jiminy Christmas," a euphemism used in place of using the name "Jesus Christ" as a curse word. It's like saying "heck" instead of "hell" or "darn" instead of "damn" or "shut the front door" instead of "shut the f*ck up."

Here's what The Old Farmer's Almanac has to say about it:

“Jimmy Christmas” or “Jiminy Christmas” is a direct reference to Jesus Christ and dates back to 1664, when it was first recorded as “Gemini,” a twist on the Latin phrase Jesu domini. The name of the Walt Disney character Jiminy Cricket was probably based on this phrase.

Now, a question I've always wondered is if the minced oath "criminitly," which is also a ephemism for "Jesus Christ," has anything to do with La Cosa Nostra.

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And from Etymonline an interjection:

Jiminy (interj.) exclamation of surprise, 1803, colloquial form of Gemini, a disguised oath, perhaps Jesu Domine "Jesus Lord." Extended form jiminy cricket is attested from 1848, according to OED, and suggests Jesus Christ (compare also Jiminy Christmas, 1890). It was in popular use in print from c. 1901 and taken into the Pinocchio fairy tale by Disney (1940) to answer to Italian Il Grillo Parlante "the talking cricket."

And from the OED with early usage:

  • Used as a mild oath or exclamation, esp. in Jiminy Christmas (see Christmas int.) and Jiminy cricket.
  • 1803 G. Colman John Bull i. i. 6 Den. A customer... Mrs. B. Jemmeny!

and

c1816 Ld. Byron in R. G. Latham Dict. Eng. Lang. (1872) Crimini, jimini! Did you ever hear such a nimminy pimminy Story as Leigh Hunt's Rimini?

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Green’s Dictionary of Slang shows jiminy! as an exclamation used also in oaths from late 17th century:

(also jeemeny! jemeny! jeminy! jemminy! jimmini! jimminy! jimmy!)

a euph. for Jesus! and used as such in oaths.

  • 1686 [UK] D’Urfey Commonwealth of Women Epilogue: Oh jemminy! what is the cause of that?

  • 1694 [UK] D’Urfey Comical Hist. of Don Quixote Pt 2 IV i: Ah Gimminy, I could eat the Letter up methinks.

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As for the phrase "Jumping Jiminy" in particular, it was the catchphrase of Vaudevillian El Brendel (of Brendel & Burt), who used to say it with a Swedish accent. Circa 1915-1925

In 1913 Brendel started in vaudeville as a German dialect comedian. However, because of anti-German sentiment during WWI, he changed his shtick to a faux Swedish accent. This characterization became known as “The Simple Swede” and, by all accounts, was a success. His trademark accent routinely swapped a “y” sound for “j”, which lead to his most famous catchphrase, “yumpin’ yiminy!” This catchphrase is occasionally used to this day, and is probably more recognizable than the original “jumpin’ jiminy” it was based on. The best I can tell, Brendel was responsible for the creation and popularity of “yumpin’ yiminy”, although few nowadays know where the phrase originated.

Source: El Brendel written by Stacia Kissick Jones

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