Recently I received a text from my friend, Robert Daniels, himself a local author, requesting that I do a column on this old comical saying.
This exclamation is both an oxymoron and a euphemism, or minced oath, and is believed to have been created initially to replace “Good God!” It is used to express either surprise or relief. Tracing back who actually said it first is like chasing the end of a rainbow.
In the last half of the 20th century it was popularized in America by the Charles M. Schultz syndicated cartoon strip, Peanuts, launched Oct. 2, 1950, which also spawned several TV specials, including an award-winning CBS documentary titled, “Good Grief, Charlie Brown! A Tribute to Charles Schultz” first aired Feb. 11, 2000.
While there seems to be no evidence of printed references earlier, the expression was in use by children by at least September, 1903, when it appeared in The Pedagogical Seminary, published at the State Normal School in Worchester, Mass., a training center for school teachers. It was in a column headed, “Children’s Interest in Words, Etc.,” in a lengthy list of exclamations used by girls, along with “Gee,” “Oh, my goodness!” “For pity sake!” “You bet your boots,” and many other humorous entries.
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