"By the living Harry"

Petal123
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Petal123
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Joined: January 20th, 2005, 2:51 pm

January 20th, 2005, 7:51 am #1

I have always wondered about the origin of the term "By the living Harry". It was used frequently by my mother in an exclamatory and mildly threatening tone (the threat of punishment if there were further misbehaviour) in the same way as you would say "by Jingo".

I've also come across it in literature, so it wasn't a term peculiar to my mother. The most recent place I've come across it is in the story "An Esmeralda Of Rocky Canyon" by Bret Harte.
[link=http://www.underthesun.cc/Classics/Harte/esmeralda/]story[/link]

Who was Harry?
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kurwamac
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kurwamac
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Joined: July 8th, 2003, 4:47 pm

January 20th, 2005, 8:02 am #2

Old Harry is a euphemism for the devil, which I imagine is the meaning here.
You say tomato, I say shut the fuck up
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aldiboronti
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aldiboronti
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Joined: December 1st, 2001, 5:33 am

January 20th, 2005, 1:19 pm #3

The usual form is "By the Lord Harry!", as in this example from Dickens' Barnaby Rudge, Chap.44:

"No, by the Lord Harry! cried Dennis with a noisy laugh.

As evinced by the Google hits, the phrase was popular with 19th century writers, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Fenimore Cooper, Stevenson, etc. It does pre-date the 19th century though, the earliest example I can see from a cursory search being Congreve's Old Bachelor, dating from the 1690s.

As to origin, I'll have a root through OED later unless somebody jumps in first. Devil sounds plausible.
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DaveWilton
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DaveWilton
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Joined: October 2nd, 2001, 8:31 am

January 20th, 2005, 3:34 pm #4

The OED has the expletive "by the Lord Harry" from 1687. It records "old Harry" as a name for the devil from 1777. "Living Harry" doesn't appear.

As to origin, it is just the use of a common name as a euphemism, similar to "old Nick."
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Petal123
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Petal123
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Joined: January 20th, 2005, 2:51 pm

January 21st, 2005, 7:22 am #5

So my former-Sunday-School-teacher mother was invoking the Devil against her daughter???

Just goes to show how we can use language without really knowing its history or implications, I guess. I won't take it personally, though!
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