by Kim Pederson…….
I’ve taken to saying “Holy Moly!” lately (or, alternatively and redundantly, holy moley) whenever something surprises or dismays me. I don’t know why. Mostly, I assume, to avoid blurting out other things that might not be appreciated by those within earshot. I realized just now, though, that I have no idea where the expression originates or how it gained its present usage.
So, going right to that world’s foremost unimpeachable source, Wikipedia, I learned that “holy moly” came into use in 1892 as a euphemism for “Holy Mary” because a nickname for Mary is Molly (it is?). Holy Moly, I discovered, was also the name for a now-defunct British entertainment gossip (which today we call fake news or alternative facts) website that announced important things like “Lady Gaga covers up her face with a gimp mask, improves.” (For those like me not in the know, a gimp mask is a bondage hood or mask. They are, wouldn’t you know, available in many “interesting” forms on Etsy and Amazon. We have the term thanks to the film Pulp Fiction, if you receive my meaning.)
Sadly, I found no information on when humans first started expressing their surprise, shock, etc. with particular expressions. I imagine there must be a “holy thunder lizard” back there somewhere. I did find, though, that surprise is good for us, at least that’s what Tania Luna and LeeAnn Renninger tell us in their book Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected. These authors, according to Jill Sutie, Psy.D (“Why Humans Need Surprise“), posit that surprise brings vitality into our lives and “provides a pathway to living life with more engagement and wonder.” It also has a physical effect, bringing out the dopamine in our brains to focus attention and prompt us to look at things in new ways.
Given the benefits, the Surprise authors encourage us to “engineer” more of it. They offer several ways to do this, one being “delight other people by giving them small, unexpected gifts.” My cats have adopted this practice. I usually discover these unanticipated presents by stepping on them on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. On those occasions, I say something other than holy moly. I should thank the kitties, I guess. While these experiences are of the “unpleasant surprise” variety, they do serve to increase my focus and raise my “vitality” instantly and intensely.
But I digress, as usual. In conclusion (a copout finish, I know), I state here for the record that, whatever it’s origin, holy moly works just fine for me as a surprysion [expression of surprise] and I will likely continue employing it. If it doesn’t appeal to you, you may pick from among these substitutes: holy cow, holy mackerel, holy guacamole, holy smoke, holy freeze ray Batman, holy crap, or holy merde, if you’ll pardon my French.
*The Annunciation by Eustache Le Sueur, an example of 17th-century Marian art. The Angel Gabriel announces to Mary her pregnancy with Jesus and offers her White Lilies. Public Domain.
Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.