I recently covered “J” words in a WW&P post, so I will dispense with my standard Wednesday form. However, I am obligated by the “A to Z Blogging Challenge for April” to regale you all today with something concerning that illustrious letter. So, to satisfy my own curiosity, I present you with the following:
Where on earth did that come from? That phrase has puzzled me, on and off, for years, although not enough to look it up. Now that I have, I’m sort of glad I didn’t waste a lot of my time, because no one really knows. The origins of most colloquialisms are difficult to pin down even in the easiest of circumstances. But if you are interested in some speculation, (and I decided that I was – at least as far as today’s post goes), here is some of that:
Most folks tend to agree that the phrase is one of many used as alliterative euphemisms – phrases to replace profane swearing or cussing. Instead of crying out, “Jesus!” or “Jesus Christ!” different words were substituted that had the same initial consonants. So for “Jesus!” folks might shout out “Jeepers!” or, for “Jesus Christ”, “Jiminy Cricket! and Jeepers Creepers!” are common substitutes. The list is endless. One of my favorites I first heard when we lived in the northwest corner of Vermont, in St. Albans. The favorite JC phrase there is “Jeesum Crow!”
As far as the name, “Jehosaphat” (also spelled Jehoshaphat, Jehosephat, and about as many different ways as you can think of) goes, he was a prominent King of Judah, the son of Asa. There are a number of stories concerning this mostly righteous and God-fearing king that can be found in scripture. Possibly the best known of the stories is found in 2 Chronicles, Chapter 20. It is a rather fun read – especially using “The Message” translation, which you can find here. What you won’t find there, or anywhere else in scripture is a reference to Jehosaphat doing any jumping. So, go figure.
I read an interesting suggestion of an origin for the phrase from a Jewish scholar, who seems to think that its origin is based on Midrashic commentary. According to Midrash most of the Kings of Judea and Israel were pretty rotten and evil (practiced idolatry and so forth). Jehosaphat was an exception and is praised as being one of the few Kings of Judea who was close to Hashem (Lord). One of the ways this was illustrated was (according to Midrash) when he would see or encounter a great Torah scholar or sage he would “jump” off his throne to greet and honor the wise man; ergo – “Jumpin’ Jehosaphat!” – a phrase connoting joyful surprise.
While that sounds good, I failed to find any corroborative research. The phrase ‘Jumpin’ Jehosaphat!’ originated in the United States as a mild expletive or oath. Some sources say Jehoshaphat is a less-blasphemous euphemism for Jesus. Others say it substitutes for Moses. I searched for the first recorded use of that mystery expletive. The Dictionary of American Regional English cites S.A. Hammett’s “Sam Slick in Texas,” (1858) with the following:
“Jehosaphat!… Easy over the stones, Joe.”
So, there we see the name as an expletive in print for the first time, but he isn’t doing any jumpin’. Jehosaphat doesn’t start doing that, (in print anyway), until in a story by the Irish-American writer, Capt. Thomas Mayne Reid, called “The Headless Horseman,” in 1866:
“By the jumpin’ Geehosofat, what a gurl she air sure enuf!”
You will notice that “Jehosaphat” is given another spelling, (there are several!) but the alliterative sound is the same, so, it counts.
In the Jewish tradition, primarily Orthodox, it is considered blasphemous to write the name of the Almighty. Our word “God,” is written “G_d” or substituted with “Hashem” (Lord). It has also been suggested that “Jehosaphat” is a euphemism for “Jehovah,” which in turn is an Anglicization of יהוה , the name of God (YHWH, or Yahweh) in the Hebrew Bible.
I think you get the idea. I bet that many of you have your own alliterative euphemisms. A favorite of my husband’s family, as a substitute for “Good Gracious God!” is “Good Granny Grunt!” My maternal grandmother’s substitute for “For God’s sake!” was “For garden seed!”
How about you, my Gentle Readers? Do you have some favorite profanity euphemisms to share? I’d love to read them. Until tomorrow, however, I’ll close in Mayne Reid style, with:
“By the jumpin’ Geehosofat, what a frase she air sure enuf!”