Posts Tagged ‘devil’

Sam Hill

Monday, November 26th, 2007

“What the Sam Hill is going on ’round here?”

‘What the Sam Hill’ is a relatively well known phrase that may not be used quite as much as it was in the earlier 20th century. And I was day-dreaming and thinking about that phrase this morning and came up with the etymology of the phrase. Rather out of the blue I might add. So I decided to poke about on the Internet and see if my theory is right.

Well the closest thing to an explanation of the phrase that I came across was this excerpt from a book. Out of four explanations, none of them is all that convincing.

So here’s my simple etymology of the phrase ‘what the Sam Hill’:
Fancy Englishmen in the Victorian era would say “What the devil?” much like we would say “What the hell?” or “What the heck?” when surprised or confused. OK that is a given. So I believe that instead of ‘devil’ people sometimes said “What the Samael?” Samael (sam-ay-ehl) is the proper name sometimes give to the Devil or the “king of demons” in old literature and some pagan or wiccan studies. So – if someone were to say “What the Samael are you doing?” they could easily have been misunderstood as saying ‘Sam Hill’. Try saying Samael and then Sam Hill. Sounds very close. Especially if you slur a bit as if you’ve been drinking. Which fancy Englishmen did sometimes.

So there you go: the officially unofficial and completely reasonable explanation of the history of the phrase. You’re welcome.