"Honest to God and hope to die"

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Wed Oct 9 16:09:01 UTC 2002

On Wed, Oct 09, 2002 at 11:53:11AM -0400, Fred Shapiro wrote:
> Someone (he happens to be the leading tax law scholar of all time) has
> asked me the following question:  When he was a boy in Rochester, N.Y.
> around 1925 he used the expression "honest to God and hope to die."  He is
> wondering whether there is any dictionary or other source that would give
> information as to the history or currency of this expression.
> For what it's worth, when I was a boy in the early 1960s I was familiar
> with the expression "cross my heart and hope to die," although I may have
> gotten this from hearing it used in earlier movies or television show
> reruns rather than from then-current usage.
> Can anyone suggest anything?

The OED has _cross my heart and hope to die_ from 1926 s.v.
_cross_ v. 3.b., and _cross my heart_ from 1908 in the same
place. I'd start there. There's also an 1891 example of "hope
to die..cross my breast" from 1891 s.v. _Injun_ b. The _hope to
die_ element is found from 1865 (Dickens) in the form "wish I
may die" s.v. _die_ v.(1) I. 3.c.

B. J. Whiting's _Modern Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases_ has
_cross my heart and hope to die_ from 1949. He doesn't seem to have
the _honest to God_ variant (with which I'm personally unfamiliar)
in this or his other books.

We have a non-insignificant number of examples of some variant of
_cut my throat and hope to die_, the earliest being 1968 from a
Scottish source.

Ira Gershwin's "Let's Kiss and Make Up," from the 1927 _Funny Face,_
begins with "I didn't mean to/Start any scent to/Make you sigh./
Hope to die!" I just noticed that this is also in OED.

I'll leave it to Barry to check the other databases.

Jesse Sheidlower

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