What in tarnation

What in tarnation is an idiom. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. 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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