Did The Term What In The Sam Hill Originate In Washington State?

We've all heard the phrase "What in the Sam Hill is going on?" But did you know that this phrase may have originated in our very own state of Washington?

By Unknown author - Sunset vol. 31, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66314412
By Unknown author - Sunset vol. 31, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66314412

Sam Hill Was A Washington Millionaire Who Advocated For Paved Roads

Let's take a look at the evidence:

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One of the earliest known uses of the phrase “What in the Sam Hill” was in 1895, in the novel Mr. Bonaparte of Corsica by John Kendrick Bangs. In the book, a character says “What in the Sam Hill are you talking about?”

However, it is unclear if Bangs coined the phrase or if he was just popularizing an already-existing expression.

There are several theories about where the phrase comes from. One theory suggests that it is a corruption of the biblical phrase “Whatsoever things are honest…”

Close-up of religious books

Other theories suggest that it is a reference to a famous surveyor in Michigan, Samuel W. Hill, or that it is simply a made-up nonsense phrase.

There is no definitive answer about where the phrase “What in the Sam Hill” came from, but there are plenty of theories.

We can sadly dispel one theory and that is of Washington State's own Sam Hill.

Wikipedia says this about Sam Hill from Washington State:

Non-contender: Millionaire in the Pacific Northwest: The millionaire Samuel Hill, a businessman and "good roads" advocate in the Pacific Northwest, became associated with the phrase in the 1920s. A reference appeared in Time magazine when Hill convinced Queen Marie of Romania to travel to rural Washington to dedicate Hill's Maryhill Museum of Art.[11] The fact that "Father of Good Roads" Samuel Hill hadn't been born when the figure of speech first appeared in publication rules out the possibility that he was the original Sam Hill in question

You might think the phrase originated in Washington State but our famous Sam Hill wasn't born yet so it's highly unlikely that he was the inspiration for the phrase.

No worries though, Sam Hill is already famous for advocating for paved roads and his famous Stonehenge replica near Maryhill Washington so his legacy is quite secure.

You can read more about the Sam Hill meaning here.

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