By Judy Woodward

Every week, the reference librarians at the Roseville Library receive dozens of questions from the public. Here is one of the more interesting queries we have received lately:

Q.  What are the origins of expressions like “Holy Moly” and “Suffering Succotash”?  Were they invented for the cartoons?

A.  Back when the rules for polite conversation were a lot more restrictive than they are now, well-bred ladies and gentlemen did not use expressions that alluded to religious matters or intimate bodily functions. 

Instead, they invented a category of euphemistic phrases known as “minced oaths,” which substituted innocuous, near substitutes for the banned phrases.  It’s pretty easy to figure out what words “Gosh Darn” and “Shoot” are standing in for. But did you know that “Holy Moly” is supposed to represent “Holy Moses”? 

“Suffering Succotash” may be most closely associated in the public mind with the trademark utterance of Looney Tunes character Sylvester the Cat, but its real significance is as a substitute for “Suffering Savior.”  Other examples of minced oaths include “For the love of Mike” (For St. Michael’s sake), “Gee willikers” (Jesus) and “For crying out loud” (For Christ’s sake).  (Internet Resources including

Judy Woodward, who lives in St. Anthony Park, is a reference librarian at the Roseville Library, 2180 N. Hamline Ave. The library’s general phone number is 651-724-6001.

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