By the Great Horned Spoon!

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Nov 26 19:03:17 UTC 2001

>I think the correct expression is "...the great horn spoon" and presumably
>dates from a time when spoons were made from animal horns.

That's right. The expression appears in DARE and in Mathews. It is
sometimes said to have been nautical slang, which might favor Jim Landau's
theory. The *great* horn spoon might be Ursa Major. However "the horn"
apparently was once a name of Ursa Minor, also (an abbreviated equivalent
of "horn-spoon"?). Or the oath could have been a euphemism based on an
earlier impolite exclamation with "horn" = "erect penis" or "hornie" = "the

Ware (1909?) shows also "by the big spoon". There are also "spoon of horn",
"horny spoon", "horn spoons", etc.

A horn spoon was once considered the correct utensil for use with porridge
(to insulate the hand from the heat?) and with an egg (to avoid tarnishing
the silver?).

The mild oath was discussed in "American Speech" in 1929 (AS 4:255-256,
4:499-500). Somebody speculated a connection with an English expression "to
make a spoon or spoil a horn", referring to the carving of a spoon from an
animal's horn and apparently meaning "to succeed or fail" or so. (I'm not

Earliest "great horn spoon" quotation I've seen: 1842 (AS 4:500; I think
this is in DARE too).

There are several instances in "Harrington", by William Douglas O'Connor
(1860), at MoA (books) (Michigan).

-- Doug Wilson

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