for the love of pete!

topic posted Sat, December 20, 2003 - 7:21 AM by 
for pete's sakes, why is that a derogatory comment? entomologically speaking i don't see the immediate history. st. peter is where the pope lives so it's not like judah or something. a quick google didn't help. i know ask dr. hal!
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    Re: for the love of pete!

    Sun, December 21, 2003 - 12:06 AM
    For petes sake lets avoid these philosophical arguements.
    • Re: for the love of pete!

      Mon, December 29, 2003 - 8:14 AM
      okay poking around in some etymology i found it. and i was kinda right about the biblical reference. just didn't get it.

      Q.: My co-worker and I have been trying to find out where the phrase "For Pete's Sake" came from. Any ideas?
      - Gail C. A.: It started sometime in the 1920s as an offshoot of the expression "For the love of Pete!" That expression can be traced to the United States in the late 1900s. Actually, the name Pete means nothing because there are examples of other names used in its place (Mike being the most common). It's generally believed that both expressions came from the euphemistic expression "Moses!," which was a explanation of surprise or alarm.

      This Week's Question

      Who is Pete and why are we doing everything for his sake?
      - Kristal Dove, Aubuche France

      The expression "For Pete's sake" is slang for I am frustrated with the situation. It is typically tacked on the end of a sentence to emphasize one's frustration. Examples include:

      It was just a joke for Pete's sake - The Ask The Rick planned response for Ben Stein's lawyers. Let's hope they have a sense of humor.

      It's just a goofy Newsletter. Make something up for Pete's sake. - The evil thought I often have in the wee hours of the morning when weighing factual accuracy vs. sleep. For the record, I never have jeopardized the journalistic integrity of this Newsletter for sleep.

      Another variation of the phrase is "for the love of Pete" as in, "For the love of Pete, can you please just answer the question."

      It's a minced oath for crying out loud

      The phrase "For Pete's sake" is often referred to as a minced oath. A minced oath is a phrase that is substituted, sometimes at the last minute, for a swear word or blasphemous phrase. The minced oath usually sounds similar to the original swear word or expression. Examples include: oh my goodness, gosh darn it, for crying out loud, shucks, shoot, fudge, holy cow and Mother Fletcher. No offense to Ask The Rick member Tony Fletcher or his mother. If you want to hear some truly creative minced oaths, try watching Al Pacinio's Scarface the next time it is on Network TV.

      For Pete's sake is a minced oath in lei of the phrase "For God's sake". Granted, "For God's sake" is pretty tame compared to the barrage of Mother Fletchers that typically pepper most R rated movies. It is however a clear violation of the 3rd commandment, Thou shall not take the Lord's name in vain. Back in a time when people actually cared more about obeying the third commandment than testing the first amendment, the minced oath "for Pete's sake" was born. Man, I sound like my late Grandfather.

      Open Up Those Pearly Gates

      So who is Pete?

      Etymologists (people who study the origins of words/expressions) are unanimous in their belief that Peter was probably Saint Peter. Their reasoning, Peter is about as close to God as you can get without committing actual blasphemy.

      Peter was indeed very close to God. Peter was generally considered the spokesman for the twelve apostles and is listed first whenever they are listed by name in the Bible. Jesus singled out Peter from the rest of the apostles in Mathew 16:18-19, "Upon this rock I will build my church and I will give unto thee keys to the kingdom of heaven". Hence Saint Peter's gig at the pearly gates. Peter was also the first person Jesus appeared to after the resurrection and eventually became the first Pope of the Catholic Church before being crucified by the Romans.

      Give me some facts for Pete' sake

      Although this theory is somewhat logical and most certainly plausible, I do have one serious problem. Where's the proof?

      The Ask The Rick research staff found thirteen etymology sites which listed an explanation for the origin of the phrase "For Pete's sake". Every single one used wishy washy language like "probably Saint Peter", "presumably Saint Peter" and "most likely Saint Peter". Probably? Presumably? Most likely? What the hell is that? I want facts, references and dates. Have you ever heard a historian say, "George Washington was probably the first President. He most likely lived in Mount Vernon. Presumably he was married to a women named Martha."

      The etymologist community had let me down. It was time to take matters into my own hands.

      Rick The Etymologist

      According to, the expression "For Pete's sake" first appeared in English literature in 1924. The relatively late date in history (over 1900 years after St. Peter's death) made me think that perhaps I was close to an etymology discovery of monument proportions. Equipped with a fresh pot of coffee, a borderline obsessive compulsive disorder and a high speed Internet line, I set out to turn the etymology community upside down.

      Four frustrating nights and two and half pots of coffee later, I decided to get off my etymologist high horse and humbly admit defeat. What I found out, was there is a reason that etymologists use expressions like probably and most likely. The whole science itself is pretty much a crap shoot. Even if I could find out who first wrote "For Pete's sake", it would be impossible to know what Peter they were referring to. Seeing as the original author is most likely dead, sending him an email to find out his original intent would be somewhat difficult, even with a DSL line. Even if he/she could answer emails from beyond the grave, there is no guarantee that even they would know. They might have heard it in a Pub, thought it was good dialogue and have absolutely no idea who Pete even was.

      So to answer your question Kristal, Pete is probably Saint Peter. We tried and long and hard at Ask the Rick to get rid of that probably, but to no avail.

      Come to think of it, who really cares. It's just a stupid expression for Pete's sake.
      • all petered out

        Fri, January 2, 2004 - 2:20 PM

        What's the origin of the phrase "PETER OUT"?

        My colleague Rick Thompson asks, "What's the origin of the phrase, 'to peter out'?" Word origins chased me out of the answerin' business (until recently,) but RT tolerates my daily intrusions on his work space so politely that I felt duty bound to dust off my etymological references and the internet to scratch his intellectual itch.

        The bottom line is that the OED indicates that peter, meaning "become exhausted or give out," is of unknown origin. The rest of this column is composed of speculative etymology gleaned from tomes and web pages, none of which include a "cite" to support their various notions. Thus, in no particular order:

        The Phrase Finder suggests that,

        "The phrase apparently originated in the mining camps of America in the 19th century. The 'peter' was saltpetre."

        Take Our Word presented this dissertation, which is, frankly, quite complete. I own the Charles Funk book referred to herein, and I must say that Funk, while entertaining, is generally quite light on documentation.

        From Joseph R. Schmitt:

        I have always thought the term petered out referred to a fuse or powder trail which lost fire before reaching the charge, as in mining, where the expression is used to denote the end of a vein, or as with a flintlock or cannon, where the fire must be led to the main charge. I find no proof.

        Joseph Schmitt - don't you make chocolate truffles in San Francisco? Oh, sorry, that's Joseph Schmidt. Well, not-the-truffle-guy-Joseph, petered out is one of those phrases that the OED claims is of unknown etymology. However, we've done a little mining of our own and have found a couple of possible explanations for the phrase, though there's little to no proof for either of them.

        Charles Funk admits that the phrase's origin is not known, but he guesses that it might come directly from St. Peter, who, in the Garden of Gethsemane, went from an ear-cutting defense of Christ to a lily-livered denial in a very short time. It's not a huge leap from that image to the meaning of peter out: "to diminish gradually and come to an end." However, Ernest Weekley thinks it could come from French peter, "fart" and refers us to the term fizzle out, another onomatopoeic term (from the sound of the fuse on a firecracker or the like sputtering out). Yet Paul C. Beale, editor of our copy of Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, likes the St. Peter story.

        The term dates from the early 18th century in the U.S. The first recorded usage is as mining slang, referring to a mineral petering out.

        Another word which probably comes from St. Peter is peter meaning something which is secured with a lock. This is because St. Peter was depicted holding the keys to heaven. In the early 1600s a peter meant a trunk but it now survives only as British criminal slang for a "safe" or a "jail cell". (Though, of course, in Britain, that would be written "gaol cell".)

        From the Usenet group, alt.usage-english we find this summary:

        "peter out"

        This expression meaning "to dwindle to nothing" is recorded from 1846, which precludes derivation "peter" in the sense "penis", an Americanism not attested until 1902. "To peter out" was apparently first used by American miners referring to exhausted veins of ore. The origin is uncertain. It may come from "saltpetre" (used in the miners' explosives, so called because it forms a salt-like crust on rocks, ultimately from Greek _petra_ = "rock", whence we also get "petrify" and "petroleum"); or it may come from French _peter_, which literally means "to fart" but is used figuratively to mean "to fizzle" and in the phrase _peter dans la main_ = "to come to nothing" (this comes from the Indo-European root _*perd-/_*pezd-_, whence we get "fart", "feisty", "fizzle", "partridge", "pedicular", and "petard").

        The Bedtime Browser sounds definitive, although no factual basis backs up its speculation. It avers the following.

        Peter: If something peters out then it comes gradually and gently to an end. The saying comes from the American gold fields where the black powder used as an explosive was known as peter, after the saltpetre on which it was based. When a seam was truly worked out even the peter couldn't bring forth more gold.

        Finally, at, we find similar notions.

        peter out

        It seems unlikely that disappointed American miners during the '49 gold rush derived the expression to peter out, 'to taper off or come to an end,' from the French peter, 'to break wind.' This would indeed have been an expression of their disappointment when a mine failed to yield more gold, but there were ample American words available to express the same sentiment. Another guess is that the 'peter' here refers to the apostle Peter, who first rushed to Christ's defense in the Garden of Gethsemane, sword in hand, and then before the cock crowed thrice denied that he even knew Him. Most likely the expression springs from the fact that veins of ore in mines frequently petered out, or turned to stone. The gunpowder mixture of saltpeter, sulphur, and charcoal, commonly called peter by miners, was used as an explosive in mining operations and when a vein of gold was exhausted it was said to have been petered out.

        So what does mrlucky think?

        My impression is that most of these "scholars" got their ideas from Charles Funk, whose book, "A Hog On Ice & Other Curious Expressions", was published in 1948. As his conclusions seem to have been formed without proper citation, you can take 'em or leave 'em as you see fit. The OED ain't saying, so neither will I.

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