'Gosh' is a common substitute for the word 'God' in phrases such as 'Oh My Gosh' or 'By Gosh' or just 'Gosh'. Is this just a corruption of the word 'God' or does it have some other provenance? How long has it been in use?

[25nov2017] The usual secondary sources, OED and Etymology Online, don't seem to adequately answer the questions. For example, is 1757 the earliest date of use? What evidence suggests 'gosh' is a mispronunciation of 'god'?

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    No need of 'for' at the end, I think.
    – Kris
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 7:04
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    @Kris I don't think it hurts.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 7:15
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    Related: Is “honest to gosh” a popular and decent English idiom? Commented May 20, 2012 at 15:25
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    What the heck??
    – JeffSahol
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 15:31
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    @DoubleAA: I requested a reopening of this question on meta. From the answer there, I gather you'll have better luck with reopening if you edit it to include the direction of your own research and specify which questions have not been answered by general reference resources. Commented May 21, 2012 at 16:42

3 Answers 3


Etymonline has this on the word:

gosh 1757, altered pronunciation of God. Probably from by gosse (mid-16c.).

but offers no additional information on gosse other than as a German word for gutter under the entry for gut.

Wikitonary's listing for gosse also seems to hold no further clues.

Here's a clip of the earliest use in print from Barry's OED answer:

enter image description here

This is from a 1765 collection of Samuel Foote's plays. This play, The Author, was originally published in 1757. He uses the phrase once again later in the same play:

enter image description here


Just figured out that the by gosse mentioned at Etymonline is from Ralph Roister Doister, a comic play by Nicholas Udall generally regarded as the first comedy to be written in the English language. It was published c. 1567. Here is a clip from the play reprinted in 1821:

enter image description here

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    The OED has Udall's gosse as it's only citation, and gives the year as "?1556". The prolegomena at the front of the book you found gives further information: in 1556, it was entered on the books of the stationers' company as a play about to be published and then it seems the bookseller cancelled it, "but there is litle doubt that it was printed shortly after".
    – Hugo
    Commented May 21, 2012 at 7:22
  • The prolegomena reads 1566, not 1556. I think part of the confusion here is that the play was written and performed several years before it was published (according to my Wikipedia link above, though it lacks citation). Commented May 21, 2012 at 12:36
  • Oops, I misread those similar-looking dates to be the same. Yes, that makes sense. The OED has "a1556" for the citation date: this is Udall's year of death, so he must have written it before then! It then has "(?1566)" for the publication date: this tallies with the prolegomena.
    – Hugo
    Commented May 21, 2012 at 13:38

Gosh has no literal meaning. It's not supposed to.

It's a Euphemism, which means it's a word that is used instead of a taboo word (in this case, as you suggest, the taboo word is God).

This is word magic, and the usual magic principle that requires correct pronunciation to effect magical results applies. (For example, in the case of Sanskrit, correct pronunciation of the Vedas was believed to be necessary for the preservation of the Universe, leading directly to the invention and development of a scientific phonetics by Pāṇini)

Specifically, if you offend a Power by saying its name, or referring to something forbidden, you may be noticed and punished; so you avoid that by saying something similar enough to be recognized by us humans who are in on the joke, which the Power nevertheless might not notice. Gods, as Terry Pratchett points out, don't have to be very smart or observant, when they have humans to do it for them.

The Greeks, who invented the term euphemism (from eu- 'good' + phazein 'speak'), attempted to apply it to the gods themselves; notably the Furies, who caused bad things to happen, by renaming them the Eumenides, or 'Gracious Ones', as chronicled by Aeschylus.

English is full of euphemisms; similar monosyllabic phonological euphemisms include geez (for Jesus), (the) heck (for (the) hell), shoot (for shit), futz (for fuck), etc. There are many other kinds, and there is a very thorough and fascinating discussion of the topic on Wikipedia .

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    Futz? Commented May 20, 2012 at 19:27
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    Incidentally, gosh is one of the few words in my native dialect (DeKalb County, IL) that gets gratuitous rhoticization. That is, I speak the variety of Midwestern English that says "garsh", as well as "warsh" and "Warshington". Those are the only words that get it. For some reason, unknown to me; I'm a syntactician and semanticist, not a historical sociolinguist. Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 17:38

The OED calls it a ‘mincing pronunciation of god’. The earliest citation is dated 1757.

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    Should we answer a GR?
    – Kris
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 7:28
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    @Kris I don't think it hurts.
    – user16269
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 7:56
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    @Kris: We've dealt with similar questions before. It's a matter of judgement as to the point at which a question becomes general reference. The answers to many of the questions here are available elsewhere to those who are prepared to take the trouble to find them. Commented May 20, 2012 at 8:31
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    And not everyone has a subscription to the OED.
    – JLG
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 15:12
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    @JLG: No, but anyone with a British public library card can get free access. Commented May 20, 2012 at 16:00

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