Heavens to Betsy

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Thu Nov 2 01:29:06 UTC 2000

    Here is some speculation on "Heavens to Betsy":

(1) It's necessary to bear "Goodness gracious me" in mind when trying to
figure out the origin of "Heavens to Betsy."  "Goodness gracious me" is
probably elliptical for "May Goodness be gracious to me," where "Goodness"
is used in place of "God."

(2)   Similarly, "Heavens to Betsy" may be seen as elliptical for "May the
heavens be gracious to Betsy."

(3) I was therefore wondering who the original "Betsy" could have been who
is referred to in "Heaven to Betsy."  Along came Jan Ivarsson's Nov. 1,
2000 helpful message mentioning Betsy Ross.  Is there supportive evidence
anywhere for his suggestion? Are there any other possible candidates?

------Gerald Cohen

>Could Betsy possibly be Betsy Ross in Minna Irving's "Betsy's Battle Flag"?
>"The simple stone of Betsy Ross
>Is covered now with mold and moss,
>But still her deathless banner flies,
>And keeps the color of the skies.
>A nation thrills, a nation bleeds,
>A nation follows where it leads,
>And every man is proud to yield
>His life upon a crimson field
>     For Betsy's battle flag!"
>I found the poem in Burton Stevenson's Book of quotations, but
>unfortunately without date or title of Irving's book, if any. (Irving,
>Minna, Mrs. Harry Michiner, 1857 - 1940, American verse-writer)
>Jan Ivarsson, Sweden
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Fred Shapiro" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
>Sent: den 1 november 2000 13:40
>Subject: Re: Heavens to...
>> On Tue, 31 Oct 2000, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>> > "Heavens to Betsy" is apparently entirely mysterious in its origin. It is
>> > discussed at the M-W Web site and at Quinion's site. There is a book by
>> > this title by Charles Earle Funk (1955, now available in paperback), in
>> > which Dr. Funk reports his failure to establish an 'etymology'.
>> The OED's first use for "heavens to Betsy/Betsey" is dated 1892.  Making
>> of America yields the following earlier example:
>> 1878 _Harper's New Monthly Mag._ Sept. 582  "Heavens-to-Betsy!  You don't
>> think I ever see a copper o' her cash, do ye?
>> Fred Shapiro
>> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
>> Associate Librarian for Public Services     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
>>   and Lecturer in Legal Research            Yale University Press,
>> Yale Law School                             forthcoming
>> e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               http://quotationdictionary.com
>> --------------------------------------------------------------------------

gcohen at umr.edu

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