On Language: Oh-My-God

If William Safire were still with us he would no doubt be blown away by the ubiquity with which the OMG has permeated the English language.  The Deity seems to mark the beginning of almost every phrase fit for an enthusiastic intro.

Forget “you’re kidding”.  Or “you can’t be serious”.  Or “get out of here”.  Or “no way”.  It was well over a year ago that I first heard my daughter-in-law toss off the one liner: “Oh My God”. It wasn’t the three words.  It was the prosody; the inflection.  The verbal emoticon embellished by facial expression.  Let me count just a few of the ways:

1) Oh, [pause for effect] mygod – that’s the contorolled deliberate tone, perhaps expressing some concern.

2) Oh, my, God – that’s the one with staccato, serious overtones.

3) Oh my GOD! – that’s the one that takes a dip down after the “my” and explodes into God – for enthusiasm.

4) OH MY GOD! – that’s the running start that bursts into unbridled joy.

So what does Wiki have to say about this?

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/oh_my_God

The phrase typically expresses excitement, shock, awe, dismay or supplication.  Common euphemisms are oh my gosh, omigosh, or oh my goodness – presumably for those who find mentioning God in this context blasphemous.

As an interjection, Oh My God is usually a “wow” to someone else’s news.  It even threatens to phase out “awesome!”.  After all, the three words lets the user play alot more with inflection, compared to just the one or two word jobs.  In this vein, Wikisaurus does a nice job of letting us know all the phrases it has already displaced.

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wikisaurus:wow

Some of my favorite are:

And of course, the displacement of Jesus in the vernacular.  As a recent example, take the column a few days ago by Mike Hume extolling the Godlike pitching qualities of Stephen Strasburg.

http://www.fcnp.com/sports/6679-picking-splinters-oh-my-god/

So is this just a passing linguistic fad, or is the phrase here to stay?

Ohmygod!!!!  I can’t believe you asked that!

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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4 Responses to On Language: Oh-My-God

  1. My personal favorite variation is ZOMG.:
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=zomg

    But I have have said “Holy mackerel!” enough around the house that my 3 year old has begun asked me what a mackerel was.

    Better than WTF, though….

  2. Daniel Wohlgelernter says:

    Len, I am impressed by your William Safire-esque analysis of the evolution of colloquialisms , vernacular neologisms, and SMS abbreviations. Safire surely is smiling in seventh heaven !

    • Thanks, Dan. Until you mentioned it, I hadn’t thought about seventh heaven much lately. Probably the origin of the Yiddish phrase, “Der neshama zul hubben an aliyah” (pardon the transliterative butchering) – which loosely means, may your elevator ascend to the seventh heaven and your soul not get off on the fourth floor”. Okay, now Safire is smiling.

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