What in tarnation

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What in tarnation is an idiom. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom what in tarnation, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

What in tarnation is a phrase used as an exclamation of surprise or anger. Generally, the term what in tarnation is considered a mild oath that comes from the time of the American Old West because it is associated with a cartoon character set in the Old West, Yosemite Sam; however, the term is actually older than that. The expression what in tarnation dates back to the 1700s and is derived from the mildly offensive word, darnation. Darnation was a word used in place of damnation so as not to upset polite company. The word tarnation is also influenced by the word, tarnal, another euphemism that was a substitute for the word, Eternal, meaning God. What in tarnation is an American idiom.


I yarded my 200 pounds of self out of bed, put some pants and T-shirt on, stepped into my moccasins, grabbed a flashlight and went out into the night to see what in tarnation was happening. (East Oregonian)

The comedian’s popular stand-up routine led to a series of top-selling “Redneck Dictionary” books designed more for laughs than to actually help those residing north of the Mason-Dixon line understand what in tarnation me and my fellow hicks, hayseeds and hillbillies are trying to express through our slow, twangy drawls. (The Mountaineer)

When we heard that Google Express was having a big sale for Memorial Day Weekend, our first thought was “What in tarnation is Google Express?” (GQ Magazine)

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