what in <tarnation>...?

csicska

Senior Member
hungarian
Hello. Is the usage of "tarnation" as an intensifier old-fashioned? Thank you.

“What in tarnation?” is one of a wide variety of euphemistic expressions of surprise, bewilderment or anger that arose in 18th and 19th century America. “Tarnation,” which dates back to the late 18th century, is an interesting example of this generation of euphemisms because it’s actually two euphemisms rolled into one word. The root of “tarnation” is “darnation,” a euphemistic modification of the word “damnation,” which at that time was considered unfit for polite conversation. “Darnation” became “tarnation” by being associated in popular speech with “tarnal,” an aphetic, or clipped, form of “eternal.” What in tarnation? - Appalachian History

Would it sound odd if someone said for example "What in tarnation were you doing here"?
 
  • dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    Yes, in the US it sounds old-fashioned. It also sounds rural (what a farmer might say, not what a city person mighty say).
     

    Ali Smith

    Senior Member
    Urdu - Pakistan
    Yes, in the US it sounds old-fashioned. It also sounds rural (what a farmer might say, not what a city person mighty say).
    But if memory serves, Yosemite Sam in Looney Tunes uses the word tarnation quite a bit, and Looney Tunes isn’t that old.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    Yosemite Sam was a fictional cartoon character, first seen in 1945, and still seen today in Looney Tunes. However, Yosemite Sam is a stereotypical "wild west cowboy". His clothing, mannerisms, and speech are all "wild west cowboy" stuff, not how anyone actually talked or acted in 1945 or later.

    In real life the "wild west" only existed in the period 1865-1895.

    In the US, fictional "westerns" (books, movies and TV shows whose story takes place in the "wild west") have been very popular from 1900 to 1980, peaking around 1955. Americans are familiar with stereotypical "cowboy talk", from all that fiction.
     

    anthox

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Looney Tunes isn’t that old.
    We are talking 60-80 years ago. That is old by any definition, but especially when speaking of slang. And moreso when, as dojibear notes, Yosemite Sam was using slang associated with a particular milieu that would have been dated even at that time.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Yes, maybe an 80-year-old farmer in 1945 might have said "What in tarnation!"
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Authors apparently like it. It seems to be in a lot of recent books but many of them are set in those past times. In ones that are not, it seems they are trying to create unusual characters. I have never heard anyone say it in everyday conversation, though.
     
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