Where Did Holy Mackerel Come From?

Etymology. Recorded from 1803 with uncertain origin, but possibly a euphemism for Holy Mary, with Mackerel being a nickname for Catholics because they ate the fish on Fridays.

The term “holy mackerel” first appeared in print in 1803; its exact origin is unknown. Despite being perceived as a euphemism for Holy Mary, the term “mackerel” refers to the fish that Catholics eat on Fridays.

Nowadays, not too many people will bat an eyelash whenever someone is perceived to be taking the Lords name in vain by using the names “God” or “Jesus” when reacting passionately to something. But there was a time when there was a much greater stigma when it came to the use of such language, which is why “oh my God” became “oh my gosh” while Jesus Christ became “gee,” “jeez,” and “Jiminy Christmas,” to name a few. According to The Guardian, thats also how “holy mackerel” most likely came into existence, as it was first used in the early 19th century as a supposedly less blasphemous alternative to “Holy Mary,” “holy mother of God,” or “holy Madonna” — or “holy Moses,” as some have theorized.

As explained by Phrases, one explanation dates back to the 17th century when mackerel was sold on Sundays, making it a particularly “holy” fish. This is in line with how Catholics were known by the derogatory term “mackerel snatchers” in the 19th century, on account of how mackerel was a hit among budget-conscious Catholics. Either way, the enduring popularity of “holy mackerel” makes it hard to imagine any other fish given such a holy treatment.

In addition to that more straightforward explanation, it is also thought that “holy mackerel” refers to the fish that Catholics eat on Fridays during the Lenten season, just as “holy cow” refers to Hinduism and “holy smoke(s)” alludes to the incense burning ritual. If that’s the case, why was the mackerel selected instead of a marlin or a mahi-mahi, and why was it called “holy mackerel” instead of something else?

There are so many catchphrases and idioms that have fascinating origins. Some of them may have anticipated explanations for the origins of words like “go bananas,” which developed from the similar phrase “go ape.” Others, like “run of the mill,” have more complicated backstories that are perhaps less obvious but ultimately make a lot of sense. Why did people start using the phrase “holy mackerel” to express awe, surprise, or excitement at something? What’s the story behind it?

You’ve probably uttered it at least once in your life, most likely in response to an amazing event. You may exclaim, “Holy mackerel, I never saw that plot twist coming!” after watching a movie with an unexpected ending, or you may inquire, “Holy mackerel, did you see so-and-so hit that last-second shot?” when talking about your favorite basketball team’s unexpected one-point victory that was decided by a buzzer-beating three-pointer. The expression is additionally employed to express surprise, e. g. I can’t believe you’re listing your house for sale, holy mackerel!

The Origin of the Word Mackerel

This isn’t the most difficult of questions to answer, when you really go down the rabbit hole. There is some required context, though–like the etymology of the word “mackerel.”

Mackerel has long been a common source of food, even when phrases like “holy cow,” “holy smokes,” and the like were first becoming popularized. But before “holy mackerel” would enter the English lexicon, the fish actually become part of another popular phrase. It was a widely-known fact that mackerel spoiled very quickly, and “stink like a mackerel” would becoming a common simile. According to The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, “There are more references to stinking mackerel in English literature than to any other fish!”

There is no denying that the pronunciation of the word “mackerel” is quite amusing. Old French maquerel, which means pimp or procurer, is where the word came from. Although the origin of the connection is unclear, it appears to have its roots in a long-held myth about this particular species of fish. It was once believed that other fish, specifically herrings, used the mackerel as part of their mating rituals. Scientifically, this didn’t work out too well, but by the time we realized that, the name seemed to have stuck.


Where is holy mackerel from?

American psychedelic pop group The Holy Mackerel was founded in 1968 in Los Angeles, California.

What does the saying Holy mackerel mean?

informal. used to express extreme surprise, happiness, or excitement Holy mackerel! You got your hair cut!.

How much damage does the Holy mackerel do?

A community-made melee weapon for the Scout, the Holy Mackerel It is a fish, probably a mackerel, tied with a rubber band and wrapped in tattered, filthy newspaper. Identical to: Bat. [collapse]Damage and function timesDamageBase damage100%35Critical105Mini-crit47.

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