Holy Smokes!: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
November 24, 2023

"Holy smokes" is an English exclamation that is often used to express surprise, astonishment, or shock. It's a mild, old-fashioned term that's considered safe to use in any situation, from informal to formal.

In short:

"Holy smokes!" is an idiom used to show surprise, shock, or amazement.

What Does "Holy Smokes!" Mean?

The phrase "holy smokes!" is often used as an exclamation to express strong feelings of surprise, amazement, or even disbelief. The phrase is an example of a minced oath, a euphemistic expression formed by misspelling, mispronouncing, or replacing a part of a profane, blasphemous, or taboo term to reduce the original term's objectionable characteristics. In this case, "holy smokes" is often used as a more polite, less offensive alternative to stronger expressions of surprise or shock.

  • It is akin to saying "Wow!" or "Oh my gosh!"
  • Often used when someone is taken aback or caught off guard.
  • It's a more colorful way to express astonishment than other common exclamations.

Where Does "Holy Smokes!" Come From?

"Holy smokes" is an American expression used to show surprise and has been around since the late 1800s. The word "holy" has been used with other words as exclamations since the 1700s. For example, "holy cow" was used to express surprise. And people used phrases like "Holy Willie" to talk about someone pretending to be very religious. The first known use of "holy smoke" was in 1892 in a book called "The Naulahka." The phrase comes from the habit of calling something holy to avoid using profanity or taking the Lord's name in vain. So "holy smokes" allowed people to express surprise without swearing.

10 Examples of "Holy Smokes!" in Sentences

Using idioms in sentences can sometimes clarify their meaning and show how they fit into everyday conversation.

Here are ten examples of how "holy smokes!" can be used:

  • When I saw the final score of the game, I shouted, "Holy smokes! I can't believe they won by that much!"
  • "Holy smokes! Look at that giant burger he's eating!"
  • She opened the gift and said, "Holy smokes! Is this the new phone I wanted?
  • After seeing the bill, he exclaimed, "Holy smokes! Why is this so expensive?"
  • "Holy smokes! I've never seen so many people at this park."
  • When the magician performed his final trick, the audience shouted, "Holy smokes! How did he do that?"
  • "Holy smokes! It's snowing in April!
  • Upon hearing the news, she whispered, "Holy smokes! I didn't see that coming."
  • "Holy smokes! You baked all these pies yourself?"
  • He looked at the tall mountain and sighed, "Holy smokes! That's going to be a tough climb."

Examples of "Holy Smokes!" in Pop Culture

The phrase "holy smokes!" hasn't just been used in casual conversation. It's also found its way into popular culture, from movies and TV shows to music and literature.

Here are some notable mentions:

  • In the TV series "Batman" from the 1960s, Robin often used exclamations like "holy smokes!" when faced with perplexing situations.
  • The song "Holy Smoke" by Iron Maiden, although not directly using the phrase, plays on the theme and idea behind it.
  • The movie "A League of Their Own" features a scene where a character shouts "holy smokes!" after witnessing an impressive play.
  • In "The Andy Griffith Show," characters sometimes use the phrase to express their surprise at various events in the town of Mayberry.
  • The book "Holy Smokes: Inspirational Help for Kicking the Habit" by Erik Rees uses the idiom in its title, giving it a playful twist to tackle a serious subject.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Holy Smokes!"

English is a rich language with a plethora of ways to express astonishment and surprise.

Here are some other expressions that convey a similar sentiment:

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Holy Smokes!":

  • What does "holy smokes!" exactly mean?

It's an expression used to convey surprise, astonishment, or disbelief, similar to saying "Wow!" or "Oh my gosh!"

  • Where did the phrase "holy smokes!" originate?

Its exact origins are unclear, but it might be linked to religious ceremonies or popularized through comic books and radio shows.

  • Can "holy smokes!" be used in formal situations?

It's generally considered informal, so it's best used in casual conversations rather than formal settings or professional writings.

  • Are there other phrases similar to "holy smokes!"?

Yes, there are many such as "holy cow!", "holy moly!", and "Good heavens!" among others.

  • Is "holy smokes!" used worldwide?

While it's predominantly an English expression, its meaning might be understood by many due to its appearance in global pop culture.

  • Why do people use expressions like "holy smokes!" instead of just saying "Wow!"?

Using colorful idioms adds richness to language and can make expressions more memorable or impactful.

  • Has "holy smokes!" been used in popular songs or movies?

Yes, it's appeared in various media, including TV series like "Batman", songs by bands like Iron Maiden, and movies such as "A League of Their Own".

  • How has "holy smokes!" evolved over the years?

While its core meaning of expressing surprise has remained, its popularity might have waxed and waned with trends in media and literature.

  • Is it appropriate for children to use "holy smokes!"?

Yes, it's a harmless exclamation and doesn't contain any inappropriate or offensive language.

  • Do other languages have similar expressions to "holy smokes!"?

Most languages have their own unique ways to express surprise or astonishment, though the exact phrases and their translations might vary.

Final Thoughts About "Holy Smokes!"

The phrase "holy smokes" is an expression people use when they are surprised or amazed. It's a way to show strong feelings about something unexpected.

To recap:

  • The saying "holy smokes" started in America around the late 1800s to express surprise.
  • The word "holy" has been combined with other words to show strong reactions for a long time. For example, in the past, people said "Holy Willie" about someone who pretended to be very religious.
  • "Holy smokes" is versatile and can be used in many situations, whether watching a movie, hearing surprising news, or seeing something amazing for the first time.
  • For instance, if someone tells you an unexpected story, you might say, "holy smokes," to show how surprised you are.
  • When someone uses "holy smokes," it means they're feeling a lot of emotion, especially surprise, about what they just saw, heard, or learned.

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