Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Episode 192: My Goodness Show Notes

 Click to read more

Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 192: My Goodness

Record Date: April 28, 2023

Air Date: May 10, 2023



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook

Have you ever been in a situation where something surprising or shocking happened? And in an effort to not say something inappropriate for the audience, you or someone around you says, “My goodness!”. I imagine an older lady, not unlike my late grandmother, clutching her necklace as she says it. But that exclamation, my goodness, will be our focus this week. 


Let’s start with the definition for “goodness” in our phrase, from the Oxford English Dictionary.


In various exclamatory phrases, typically as a euphemism for God

Originally with reference to the goodness of God

End Quote

And the definitions of “my goodness”:


In exclamations expressing surprise, horror, excitement, etc., esp. in (my) goodness, goodness gracious (me), goodness me.

End Quote 

There are also some similar phrases that use goodness as an exclamation for passionate disapproval for something, such as for goodness’ sake. 

The allusion to god may seem obvious if you assume the word “good” comes from the word “god”, or even the other way around. But it is important to note the word “god” and the word “good” are not actually related. 

For more on that we’ll turn to Anatoly Lieberman, author of the book Word Origins and How We Know Them, and of the weekly blog The Oxford Etymologist on the Oxford University Press blog. In a February 16, 2022 post called Religious terminology: the etymology of “god”, Lieberman writes:


To be sure, everything depends on what dictionary one uses. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, lexicographers did not doubt the god / good connection. But as early as 1828, Noah Webster, despite his penchant for fanciful etymologies, wrote: “…I believe no instance can be found of a name given to the Supreme Being from the attribute of goodness. It is probably an idea too remote from the rude conceptions of men in early ages.” He was quite right, even though the epithet rude cannot satisfy us today. Almost a hundred years later, the etymologist for The Century Dictionary, an excellent multivolume reference work, repeated Webster’s conclusion almost verbatim. Perhaps I’ll devote another post to the adjective good, but first things first.

Both god and good are very old words, and the definitive origin of neither has been found. Both are etymologically obscure, and their similarity is due to chance. In Old English, the word god sounded as it does today, that is, god, with a short vowel. By contrast, the Old English for “good” was gōd, in which the vowel was long, approximately as in Modern Engl. Shaw or horse, but without r. Short and long o never alternated in the same root, and, to make the case quite hopeless, o in god goes back to a form with the vowel u. This is the easy part. Good god sounds fine, but not to a language historian or a student of religion.

We have no way of knowing when the word god was coined, but assuming that it is native, it did not refer to a single deity, because before the Conversion, the ancestors of the Germanic-speaking people, like the Greeks and the Romans, believed in multiple gods. Pay attention to the evasive statement in the previous sentence (“assuming that it is native”). More than once, cautious scholars suggested that we are dealing with a borrowing, though they of course could not pinpoint the lender. When a word refuses to yield its etymology, the idea of borrowing occurs as a way out. Saying that a word is a loan from some lost language is tantamount to admitting that we’ll never reconstruct its source. To be sure, god may have been adopted by Germanic speakers from the religious practices of some native tribe, but we’ll continue our story in the hope that the word does have an ascertainable origin.

End Quote

Lieberman does go on to explain the etymology of good in the companion blog post, If God is not good, what is the origin of “good”? posted one week afterwards on February 23, 2022.  


Good is a Common Germanic adjective and turns up more than once even in Gothic, the oldest recorded Germanic language. The Gothic text is a translation from Greek of parts of the New Testament. Goths ~ gods (modernized spelling) render in it Greek agathós, khrestós, and kalós, that is, “good, kind, able, beautiful.” It occurs as an attribute of a servant, a soldier, and a shepherd and carries rather obvious connotations of efficiency, rather than “goodness.” Also, the words for “heart” and “work” occur in Gothic with this adjective, and there, too, the same overtones are obvious. We use the adjective good freely: good man, good food, good house, and so forth, but in Old Germanic, this word had the connotations “worthy, noble” and was much more often applied to people than things. In the Old English heroic poem Beowulf, an early line praises a good (possibly, strong, kind, and generous) king. Elsewhere, gōd (ō designates a long vowel) also means “efficient, strong, brave.” In Old Norse, this adjective can be safely translated as “efficient, noble.”

End Quote 

So while our phrase, My Goodness, might be euphemistically used to refer to a god, the two words “good” and “god” are likely not etymologically related. 


Dan, when did we start seeing the exclamations using “goodness”?


The Oxford English Dictionary has this form being used in the early to mid 1600s. We see Shakespeare use “for goodness sake” in Henry VIII, but the OED notes this phrase may have simply meant to be used as “in order to be kind” and not to express surprise or disagreement. So maybe it started with Shakespeare, or maybe it didn’t. 

Here is an example of goodness being used in this way from 1643, in Sir John Spelman’s A View of a Printed Book Intituled Observations Upon His Majesties Late Answers and Expresses:


That power that may oblige the subject in generall by Lawes, Ordinances, or such like Acts, or Orders, is solely in the King: In the name of goodnesse then, what is that which the people speak of, when they talke of the power of the Parliament in such generall cases, without and in opposition to the King?

End Quote;view=fulltext 

Another early usage comes from Abraham Bailey from his play The Spightful Sister. A New Comedy dated 1667 in which a character is lamenting that her daughter has had relations with a man but they are not married. The niece, also in the room, is understandably upset, because the same man has professed his love for her (the niece), too. 


Ha's he so! (O Goodness!) Aunt be patient.

Is't possible? pray Aunt say nothing of it,

Till I give further order; seem to forget it.

End Quote;view=fulltext

Here’s another example out of Tobias Smollett’s The adventures of Roderick Random, 1748. This is the start of the last paragraph in Chapter 14.


The gentleman at whose request we had come in, perceiving by my disconsolate looks the situation of my heart, which well nigh burst with grief and resentment, when the other stranger got up, and went away with my money, began in this manner:—“I am truly afflicted at your bad luck, and would willingly repair it, were it in my power. But what in the name of goodness could provoke you to tempt your fate so long?

End Quote

Here’s one from November 2, 1818 out of the British Monitor. 


“My goodness!” (as Elderberry says in that inimitable farce called “Amateurs and Actors”) What a loss to the nation has Citizen Thelwall’s absence from public life been to this country!

End Quote

Which of course, led me back to the 1818 play Amateurs and Actors: A Musical Farce by Richard Brinsley Peake. In it, the character of Elderberry does seem to use the catchphrase, “My goodness” with some astonishing frequency.

Here’s an example from:

Next up is:

One more example from the newspapers, this one:

I will note the phrase “my goodness” became a staple of the comics section, also known as the funnies, in American newspapers from the 1930s to the 1950s, at least as evidenced by the sheer volume of examples on the Chronicling America website.

1930s - 1960s

I want to close out this section with an advertisement campaign that still has examples of it today. My goodness - My Guinness was an ad campaign that started in the 1930s. The phrase was accompanied by a cartoon, usually one, occasionally two panels and featured a Guinness appearing to be in danger of being stolen or drunk by someone else - usually an animal. Though during world war 2 there were some featuring soldiers as well. Here is a snippet about it from the Guinness website:


End Quote

Many of these adverts can still be purchased today as wall-hangers. Just search My goodness - my Guinness on your search engine of choice to see a plethora of options. 

Next we’ll jump into some more modern uses, but first a special thank you to our sponsors!

A Quick Thank You

This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

Here’s a snapshot of what a typical week looks like on the feed. 

  • On Mondays we have a conversation about what everyone is reading

  • On Tuesdays the new episode comes out, a full 24 hours before it airs for everyone else

  • Wednesdays see all the links and cool things we talked about on the show

  • Thursday is our Patron’s only poll

  • And on Friday the lightly edited, rarely censored Behind the Scenes video airs, which always includes a little about our week before the show and a cool feature after the show

Plus all the things that made the cutting room floor from that week’s podcast. Available to all Patrons for just $3 per month.

We’ve got some pretty cool stuff at higher levels, too, like Original Digital Artwork once a month, made by Shauna, and awesome name recognition like Pat Rowe gets every episode. And our top spot is currently occupied by the amazing Mary Halsig Lopez. 

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. 


Modern Uses

2000 Book

Let’s kick off with a book from the year 2000 with My Goodness: A Cynic’s Short-Lived Search for Sainthood by Joe Queenan. Here is a synopsis from Google Books. 


Joe Queenan admits, even though the money is good, all his meanness has filled him with self-loathing. My Goodness documents Queenans journey toward self-regeneration. After reviewing the history of goodness in the Western world (from Jesus Christ to Sting), he chronicles his own moral attempts at rehabilitation. Being nice is the biggest challenge of his career.

End Quote

If you aren’t familiar with the American satirist and critic Joe Queenan, I’ll give a little snippet how he describes himself in a New York Times article promoting the book.


Since I started out as a writer many years ago, I have built a reputation as an acerbic, mean-spirited observer of the human condition…

I have carved out a financially remunerative niche as one of the handful of hired guns that editors can turn to when they need a fast, efficient hatchet job. The truth is, there simply aren't that many American journalists who are as consistently and methodically unaccommodating as me. Most writers would get tired of being so uniformly and predictably contemptuous of everything and everybody

End Quote

2007 Book

Next up is Oh My Goodness It Happened to Me by Jean A. Leach. The book is about the author’s journey with cancer. Here is the synopsis on Google Books:


A wonderful book of the journey many of us have to take with our diagnosis of cancer. This journey is from the point of view of the patient. It was written to help others cope with what they have gone through and will go through. Hopefully this book will inspire many to keep on going no matter what life may throw at them.

End Quote 

2011 Song

Oh My Goodness is a 2011 song by Spawnbreezie off the album Dear Billy. Here’s the opening line from this love-at-first-sight island pop song:


Now she so beautiful got me thinkin what am i doing

I gotta do somethin like oh my goodness

Never seen something do beautiful, but losin

The only thing to compare it to her music

End Quote

2012 Song

For a sense of deja vu, our next one is Oh My Goodness, a 2012 song by Olly Murs off the album In Case You Didn’t Know. Here is the opening line from this love-at-first-sight pop song:


Oh my goodness, i can't hide it

You just smiled when you walked by me

Oh... my goodness

End Quote 

2021 Book

Next I want to tell you about a 2021 book series called My Goodness, created by Dr Erica Tandori, a legally blind Sensory Science Artist in Residence at the Rossjohn Lab in Australia. It was housed at Monash University in Clayton, Australia. 

I may have a bit of trouble describing it, so I’ll read to you their description from a Youtube video that we’ll link in the show notes and on Patreon. 


Read about immune system cells through your sense of touch or learn about food and nutrition through a 3D soundscape. ‘My Goodness’, a Rossjohn Sensory Science Multisensory Science Book, is an exhibition of 10 interactive ‘books’ designed for low-vision, blind, hearing-impaired, deaf, and non-disabled audiences.

The Books explore the relationship between infection, immunity, food, and nutrition. They make science accessible to more people by using large print text, braille, tactile artworks, haptic and 3DAudio, visual tracking and tactile sensor interaction technologies.

End Quote

You can watch a 15 minute video on this amazing work on the Rossjohn Labs youtube page:

2023 Movie 

Juste Ciel is a french comedy film directed by Laurent Tirard and released in 2023. The English title is Oh My Goodness! The synopsis from Unifrance reads:


Five nuns set their sights on winning the cash prize in a major cycling race to raise money to renovate a dilapidated hospice. The only hitch is that none of them can ride a bicycle!

End Quote

Wrap Up

In researching this phrase, I was fascinated by the etymological differences in good and god. I did not realize they were so distinct from one another. But despite that, my goodness is still euphemistically referring to the concept of a supreme being. Which makes it odd. But that stark difference between how words come to be and how idioms form is such an interesting tale. And it may be what led Anatoly Lieberman to write as the stinger for his blogpost Idioms: A Historian’s View:


Idioms are phrases and often pose questions not directly connected with linguistics. Linguists interested in the origin of idioms should be historians and archeologists.

End Quote

I’m happy we have people who are interested in where words came from, and people who are interested in where phrases came from. Because I think both are intriguing. 


That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us at, or comment on our website


It’s poll time!

Recently, we asked our Patrons, do you like your beds to be more firm, or more soft?

Three quarters of our Patrons opted for somewhere in the middle. The rest went for more firm. No one wanted soft, oddly enough.

Emily led the minority opinion for Team Firmer Mattress:


Firm mattress, soft pillow

End Quote


I'm not sure I have a good answer to this because I don't think I've ever tried them side by side. I definitely have had hotel beds that were too firm, and I have definitely had some hotel beds that were too soft. So I think I'm probably somewhere in the middle. 


As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part. Head over to to take this week’s poll!



Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember, 


Words belong to their users. 

No comments:

Post a Comment