I have come across this term numerous times and this expression is well used when something unbelievable or shocking happens but I don't understand how Mother of God can imply its meaning. Does refer back to the Bible (or any religious book) or mythological event? How is its very meaning originated?

  • Of course. It refers to Maria. It is similar to saying "Jesus!" but is less provocative I guess to Catholics, who have a thing about taking the name of the lord in vain - another expression for you
    – mplungjan
    Nov 21, 2012 at 7:26
  • It's intended to be a mild oath, and not all mild oaths make a lot of sense. (Maybe there's a good reason we say "Holy mackerel!" or "Holy smokes!" but, if there is, most people would have to look it up.) Incidentally, Batman's sidekick was renowned for uttering a few gems of his own.
    – J.R.
    Nov 21, 2012 at 8:52
  • Slightly off topic: There is a charming little play by Ray Bradbury called "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit". It is set in the poor Hispanic section of Los Angeles. When the main character might be expected to utter a mild oath, instead the line is: "Madre de Mio!"
    – GEdgar
    Nov 21, 2012 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


Nowadays this is (largely) simply an exclamation, but originally it would certainly have been invoking the Virgin Mary, one of whose titles is Mother of God. Catholics invoke the prayers of the saints, and this is what this expression seeks — or originally sought — to do. [This site isn't the place for a discussion on the doctrine of the Theotokos, though.]

There are a few similar phrases still in use: Gosh and Cor are euphemisms for God; Cor blimey does mean "God blind me [for seeing that]". The obsolete zounds was euphemistically substituted for the oath "By God's wounds".

Use of a Catholic phrase such as "Mother of God," "Holy Mother of God" or even "Sweet Jesus" is naturally more prevalent in Catholic countries. Its use in the United States might be explained by the levels of Irish immigration. The phrase has had a couple of hundred years to divest itself of its overt "arrow prayer" nature.

  • how can this "Mother of God" be shocking. if I say something like that in my native language they would consider it respectful , you know because it's mother of God. :)
    – Ranger
    Nov 21, 2012 at 8:43
  • What makes you think "Mother of God" is shocking? It's a response to seeing something shocking; originally an arrow prayer -- "Mother of God, pray for them!"
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 21, 2012 at 9:33

It refers to Maria of the Christian bible. - As Andrew mentions, it was largely used by the Irish or people who mock or pretend or play an Irish person

It is similar to saying "Jesus!" but may be less provocative, I guess, to Catholics, who have a thing about taking the name of the lord in vain - another expression for you


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